Interview: Equip

About a month ago, net-label Dream Catalogue dropped Equip’s I DREAMED OF A PALACE IN THE SKY, a spellbinding dive into the childhood experience of video games. I DREAMED… details everything from the opening screen, to character creation, to the “Continue?” question after the final boss, hitting every beat in the story and gameplay along the way. To be frank, I fell in love, and our Editor-in-Chief reached out to the label for an interview with the name behind Equip, Kevin Hein. Alongside his work with Dream Catalogue, Hein is involved with Baro Records out of Chicago, and has released several records under his own name.

What drew you to making the kind of music you do now and to the concepts behind your music? In essence, why “video game music”?

Some of my earliest and most striking musical memories come from video game music. I have fond memories of playing DOS games and MIDI files from floppy discs on our family’s old Packard Bell — anyone remember MEGA RACE?

 

I got a teal Game Boy Color and POKEMON BLUE for Christmas in fifth grade, and didn’t have my own console until eighth grade, so I experienced console gaming through my friends. I would sleep over at a buddy’s house and we would play SNES till dawn — Mario World, DK Country, Clayfighter, Super Empire Strikes Back…I would be humming the music long after I went home.

I remember the first time staying in a hotel room with Lodgenet — one of those set-top boxes where you could pay by the hour to play SNES. My folks were nice enough to buy me an hour of LINK TO THE PAST — I didn’t even make it past the Lost Woods in that hour — but the melodies for “Time of the Falling Rain” and “Forest of Mystery” were engraved into my head forever.

 

My cousins exposed me to a lot of great games as well — every year we would spend a week at my Grandma’s house, and they would bring whatever the latest console was and I’d watch them play. They were the first to get a PlayStation and show me FINAL FANTASY VII — which was huge. They explained what an RPG was…I remember thinking it looked amazing: the art, the characters, and the music especially — I was drawn to it. FINAL FANTASY ANTHOLOGY had just been released as well — they made sure to expose me to FINAL FANTASY V and VI — not just VII. The underwater music always seems to be my favorite.

 

I longed for the day when I could experience these games for myself.

Long story short, I’ve been drawn to games and their music since I was a small child, and video game music has always been a part of my life.

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One of my best Craigslist finds of the summer: a modded TurboGrafx 16 and a ton of PC Engine games!

PC: Kevin Hein

You mention Yatsunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu in your album description, what is it about their music that sets them apart from their contemporaries?

For me, it’s memorable melodies. You hear them once and never forget them. Both composers know how to make the most out of limited hardware. I know citing Mitsuda and Uematsu is like being in a rock band and citing your influences as Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath, but they are truly the masters of their craft, for a good reason.

Hitoshi Sakimoto, Hiroki Kikuta, and Jeremy Soule are brilliant as well, and influenced this project just as much.

 

What kind of artists have influenced you outside of soundtrack composition?

Cocteau Twins, Seefeel, King Crimson, My Bloody Valentine, Brian Eno, Burial, Type O Negative, Boards of Canada, Vangelis, Harmonia/Cluster, DJ Shadow, The Caretaker, Godflesh, Tangerine Dream, HKE, Telepath, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Phil Collins, and Steely Dan 🙂

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Artifacts and inspiration!

PC: Kevin Hein

Do you see Equip as separate from your previous work? In other words, is there a separation between your work with Dream Catalogue and your work with Baro Records?

WOW, you did some research! At this point, it is a separate project. It sounded far enough away from my other stuff that I had to adopt a moniker, though I DREAMED… is kind of a transitionary record. I started out I DREAMED… making another guitar record, but I felt like I was doing the same thing over and over. I decided to throw all of my personal “rules” out the window and really just have fun! I stopped fretting over sound design and synthesizing everything myself and embraced finding a good-sounding preset and getting melodies and ideas out of my head as quickly as possible. For me, everything has to be completed in one go — the more I come back to something and mess with it, the less I like it.

Has your work with Baro Records musicians and other labels influenced the way you write/create music over the years?

Yeah, I’d say so for sure, it’s given me higher standards to meet. We’ve been so lucky with BARO in being able to put out releases by some of our extremely talented musical heroes and friends, so it gives you a real push to maintain that level of quality.

 

Are you interested in pursuing the more percussive sound of I DREAMED OF A PALACE IN THE SKY on future projects compared to the more ambient sound of your past work?

My very first attempts at computer music production apart from being in a band were very percussion based. I’d say out of any album, Burial’s UNTRUE inspired me to start messing around with DAWs around 2009 or so. All of my early efforts are very percussion heavy — I was trying to make “future garage.” All of my tunes sounded different and quite generic — I hadn’t developed a sound. I got so exhausted trying to make complex drum arrangements. 2011 marked a shift in my production methods; I started working at a record store and absorbing new musical influences — specifically krautrock stuff like Harmonia, Neu, and Ashra. I started focusing less on drums and more on textures — specifically guitar. It allowed me to dig myself out of a rut, get a more cohesive sound, and actually finish a release. I really fell in love with the sound of those little rhythm boxes on those Cluster and Harmonia records — the CR-78 and Acetone Rhythm Ace in particular, because they provided subtle movement without steering the composition. They are all over my previous work.

 

After making a lot of subdued rhythm-box compositions, I wanted to try more of a pop approach. I started dissecting songs to see how to program drums proper. I’ve got about an album’s worth of Cocteau Twins rip-offs — chorused out guitar with big LinnDrum/DMX beats made between my older albums and the Equip album. I wanted to incorporate this into I DREAMED… and bring the drums to the forefront. It makes the songs more active and fun to listen to. That being said, I’ve composed about 12 new tunes for the next Equip effort and so far, none of them have drums!

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A lot of the album was made outside to gain inspiration from my surroundings. Here’s an encounter with some wildlife

PC: Kevin Hein

How do you feel about your music being called vaporwave? How do you feel about the genre/scene?

It’s very interesting to me. People can call my music whatever they want, it’s always interesting to see how others interpret it. I’m just glad people are listening!

My experience with vaporwave is an interesting one — I stumbled upon COMPUTER DREAMS and FLORAL SHOPPE in early 2012 when I was getting into the tape scene and combing blogs for synth stuff I was into at the time — namely Emeralds, OPN, Expo 70, etc. At the time, we were having a blast playing slowed down 45’s at the record shop I worked at. I thought it was great that other people were making these mix tapes with slowed down ‘80s music. It sounded so different to me and that’s when I realized there was this whole genre — Luxury Elite, Topaz Gang, Lasership Stereo, etc. I got into other stuff along my musical journey and kinda forgot about vaporwave until early 2015, when I discovered 2814’s brilliant BIRTH OF A NEW DAY. I loved the idea of an ambient album taking the tropes of that scene — making an “original” vaporwave album, if you will. I absolutely fell in love with that record. I know vaporwave has a very large younger fanbase, and I thought it was awesome that 2814 were introducing ambient music to younger folks and essentially making ambient “cool.”

Discovering 2814 led me to check out Dream Catalogue and this newer crop of artists doing new things with the genre — and that it had grown to embrace and encompass ambient music.

I was blown away the first time I heard death’s dynamic shroud.wmv’s I’LL TRY LIVING LIKE THIS. To me, that album continues the lineage of artists like DJ Shadow or The Avalanches, who made entire albums out of samples. I immediately related to it, and still think it’s one of the more creative efforts I’ve heard from the scene. When I discovered Telepath, it was love at first listen. It’s amazing how Tele can take so many different styles of music, give them a cohesive sound, and make them his own. I genuinely prefer Telepath’s edits to their original songs!

 

When I started recording what would become the Equip album, I was listening to nothing but Dream Catalogue artists —Telepath in particular — every single day. It had a big impact on how I programmed and effected the drums — there is something so magical about Telepath’s use of delay and phaser — it’s straight out of a dream.

Vaporwave influenced and steered the direction of the album, for sure.

What were your reasons for creating music when you were first starting out? How have those reasons changed?

I think I started out of pure curiosity — a “can I do this?” sort of thing. I was a LEGO fanatic when I was a kid; I’ve always enjoyed building stuff from scratch. I’ve played the cello since fourth grade, so playing music has always been a part of my life. In high school I took an interest in recording and ended up going to college for it, so that introduced me to working with DAWs. I’ve played in bands with friends, nothing serious, but I always thought it would be awesome to make a record. I suppose it was only a matter of time till I started messing with audio instead of lego blocks. Finding out Burial’s UNTRUE was made in Soundforge (ancient editing software) with each sample manually placed on the timeline blew my mind. I had to try it out!

 

Nowadays, my reasons for making music are to push myself — to make something new, unique, and different, straight from the heart. My current goal is to score a game. Any developers out there reading this? 🙂

In your Bandcamp description for Z O N E S C A P I N G you mention writing in the midst of a seasonal depression. What does it mean to you to be working on music?

It means being productive — staying busy, and working towards a goal. I always try to stay positive, but man…Chicago winters can be pretty brutal, especially without a car. Simple things like getting groceries or even just getting to work become a real drag when it’s in the single digits and you have to bike or wait for the bus. It’s nice to have some ongoing project you can look forward to. A distraction! When you finally realize an album is done, it’s a eureka moment. I always take some time to relax, socialize, play video games, etc. after finishing a project so I can absorb some more life experiences and influences to start the next project with a clean slate.

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The Chicago skyline probably has some sort of subconscious effect on me when creating music

PC: Kevin Hein

Is writing music something you find therapeutic or do to escape, either in the process or with the final product?

It’s absolutely both! I rarely get frustrated when creating — you are your own critic. Even if I end up scrapping the whole thing, it never feels like wasted time. I always end up taking something away from the process, accidentally discovering something new, or harvesting some ideas for another project.

When you create your art, do you create for you or for the listener? Or both? Why?

I make music that I would want to listen to. I never really have an audience in mind when creating. That being said, I am always happy when someone takes the time to listen — even if they don’t like it. Music has enriched my life so much — even if you hate what you hear, at least you’re feeling something. I would rather someone give it a listen and hate it than feel indifferent.

Thank you so much for the great questions — answering them has been very fun and thought-provoking! I want to give a big shout out to Telepath, who was the first entity I shared I DREAMED… with — and for ultimately fulfilling my dream to have a slot in the Catalogue. HKE, of course, for giving the album a shot, being the easiest and funniest guy ever to work with, not to mention his numerous projects of which I’m a huge fan. Last but not least, Keith Rankin, for perfectly illustrating the cover image I had in my head. I credit Keith’s amazing art for getting folks to actually hit play on the album and give it a shot. I couldn’t have done this without you guys!

You can check out I DREAMED OF A PALACE IN THE SKY here!

Be sure to browse Dream Catalogue and Baro Records for releases from Telepath, HKE, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and much, much more!

Micha Knauer

Micha Knauer handles outreach for Crossfader. They grew up in four different states and once met a prancing chihuahua named Peetie.

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