Occupation: Producer/ Musician
Current Release: ΠΟΛΙΣ on Denovali
Recommendations: In The Country of Last Things by Paul Auster / Eos by Ulver
If you enjoyed this interview, visit Subheim's Bandcamp page to listen and buy his music.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
When I was 16 or so I got a cracked version of Cubas. I remember admiring musicians on stage long before I could play an instrument, I just wanted to be one of them. I loved the loud, distorted sound that was blasting through the amps, it was all magical to me. I was into metal as a teenager but it was bands like Dead Can Dance, early Autechre, Stereo Nova and GY!BE that largely shaped my musical taste.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I always had this drive to create something of my own. I was writing songs in my head even before I held a guitar for the first time. I remember being thirteen and imagining song structures by combining the elements from different songs that I liked at the time, imaginary incoherent mashups of Iron Maiden, the Backstreet Boys and Greek hip hop.
I have nothing against copying, if let us say the aim is to recreate a certain sound or even use an existing sample and re-contextualize it. If it is done tastefully and you are not blatantly ripping off someone’s else’s ideas, imitation can be a great starting point as long as you go beyond that and turn it into something that feels personal. Most of the production techniques I learned were through attentive listening and trying to recreate a sound I had heard somewhere else.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I find it much more challenging now than in the beginning to be honest. I had lower expectations on myself when I started out fifteen years ago. Finishing a track in those early days was not such a mentally draining process. I had much less going on in my life too, which helped me immerse myself in making tunes and not thinking much about other things. Recently, I have been feeling like I’m competing with myself but also with the musicians I admire. It is a tough game of self-imposed anxiety and I admit I’ve managed to repeatedly burn myself out this way.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
I was a student when I started making music, I did not have much gear at the time. I had a couple guitars and a cheap electric bass, which is actually not too bad for a student. For a few years I was mixing on crappy Behringer headphones through an even crappier SoundBlaster audio interface, I didn’t have studio monitors or any other fancy hardware except a beaten up ART preamp/effects processor and a BBE sonic maximiser unit with broken knobs. My speaker setup was pretty much the same as my listening setup, a vintage hi-fi system consisting of a Sansui amp and two AKAI speakers my grandfather bought in the 70s in Saudi Arabia. My beats were rubbish, but I learned a lot.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Although I work in music tech, technology becomes overwhelming for me very quickly and so over the years I have become more and more selective with what I use. I love Four Tet’s studio for example, he has very few bits of hardware and a large collection of records. Do not get me wrong machines are incredible, without them I wouldn’t be able to do what I do but they’re nothing without the human brain. You hear amazing tracks made by teenagers in their bedroom studio using just a pair of cheap headphones and a low-spec computer and then there’s so much uninspiring music made by people who’ve invested heaps of money in modular rigs and analog synths. It does not really matter what you have, if you are passionate and put the work in you can make incredible music with just the bare minimum, software is amazing these days.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I am grateful for being able to do pretty much everything on my laptop. I am not married to any tools; I just use whatever feels right for a given purpose without getting too hung up on what it looks like. I love my two polysynths and I have tried not to use any other hardware other than my guitar, to avoid unnecessary clutter and complexity. I would not call it co-authorship, but I do appreciate products that come with interesting sounds that instantly spark ideas for songs. I respect manufacturers that put effort into the sound content their tools come with, idea starters are everything to me.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I rarely do collaborations; I do not have the time for it. There is the odd one here and there but those are reserved for a very special case and for people that I feel very strongly about working with. My collab track with Hecq on ΠΟΛΙΣ is one of those. I do miss jamming from back when I was playing in bands though but jamming with laptops is incredibly unattractive to me. I can name at least twenty things I would rather do than sit in a room with other people staring at screens and triggering loops. Perhaps one day I will start a band again (without computers).