Name: Márcio Cunha
Occupation: Musician/ Producer/ Composer/ Sound Designer
Current Release: Rob Bob Vicar on Nostril Records
Musical Recommendations: I’m gonna toot the Portuguese horn and recommend two of my favorites: Calhau! and Tropa Macaca
If you enjoyed this interview with Márcio Cunha, check out his Facebook page for more information.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
My father was a DJ in the late seventies and throughout the eighties, so I had very early contact with all kinds of stuff. Mostly prog-rock, jazz and African semba. Growing up in such environment turned out to be very positive. Afterwards, I was pretty much the nineties kid cliché (old school hip hop, white label techno and grunge) but it was hardcore punk that fuelled me to get a summer job and buy a cheap guitar/amplifier to write my own tunes at age 16. Minor Threat and Poison Idea were extremely important in my formative years . The former taught me the punk ethics that I try to maintain to this day: individuality, an open mind and, most important, DIY. The latter, the fine art of portraying the rotten side of human existence with humour, sagacity and tongue in cheek. Punk was self sufficient and that opened my eyes. The possibility of doing whatever you want without anyone’s approval seemed and still seems very charming. That’s the biggest reason why I created my own record label – Nostril Records. I really hate being dependant on other people’s schedules/views/opinions.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I find the concept of originality a fallacy because everything you do will be informed by something that has already been done, chewed, and spat out. This process of artistic development is pure empiricism – you are born blank and subsequently filled with visual, audio or written references that at a certain point of your life speak to you. Then you forget about them but they’re there buried at the bottom of the iceberg. They become part of your artistic language and when you’re in the process of creating, you will inevitably resort to those references unconsciously because they’re the epitome of what you’re trying to achieve. Then you assemble and combine them with your own vision. It’s inevitable, but slowly you can and must progress. When I listen to old demo tapes recorded fifteen years ago, I can clearly see who I was trying to be and who I was trying to please. I started progressing towards my own voice the moment I stopped seeking validation from my peers and audience. I stopped playing in bands in 2006 and started to explore different genres using aliases, always trying to sound as myself, independantly of each genre. These genres were not chosen; there was an inner necessity to put out certain types of music – references – that I hadn’t before. That gave me liberty to do whatever I wanted, record it and move on to another project without having to cope with expectations. I found myself trying new languages I was not familiar with, thus pushing my own boundaries and blurring genres that I think have aesthetically and thematically much in common. The various aliases I use (Desdém; Locust of the Dead Earth; Mandrax Icon; Besenstiel) are then mingled in what I do as myself – Márcio Cunha. The more expectations people have of you, the more your artistic vision will be compromised because you’ll then be creating for them and not for yourself.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My main challenges have always been technical. I’m not a very tech savvy person, so, although my first contact with a DAW (digital audio workstation) was in the late nineties, it took me a very long time to get where I am today (and I still believe I have a lot to learn). I see the studio as an instrument. The greater the grasp you have of its functionalities and capabilities, the more you can expand your creativity. However, I do believe in happy accidents, and sometimes not knowing exactly what you’re doing can lead you to new ideas that you haven’t thought of. That unpredictability can work wonders, especially when the only creative input available is yours.
Tell us about your studio, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
To be honest, there was no criteria. I naively bought a Pro Tools DIGI002 rack system (because everyone was using it back then) and some cheap Alesis monitors and that’s it. I usurped my girlfriend’s fancy desktop and that’s the core of my set up to this day. It’s been evolving gradually according to my needs for a specific project, but more in terms of new instruments and microphones. Due to the fact that I've changed houses (and cities) a lot in the last ten years, I haven’t been able to set up a properly treated listening room, which is crucial when you mix and master your own stuff, but I always find a way to make it work in my own terms. Lately, I’ve been investing in analog hardware synths. As clichéd as it may sound, there is nothing comparable to analog warmth. And, yeah, it really is important for me to twiddle with knobs and explore what a synth has to offer that way. It leads me to those happy accidents I mentioned before. In terms of mood, I reckon that I’m more influenced by the surroundings where the studio is at than the studio per se. If I could, I’d move my studio into a wooden cabin in the mountains and produce there.
What are currently some of the most important tools and instruments you're using?
I couldn’t live without these three: Gibson Les Paul; Maxon AD-9; Jomox XBase 09. The Roland Alpha Juno 1 is also slowly growing in my heart.