Name: Wheez-ie aka Matthew Mauldin
Occupation: DJ, producer, mastering engineer
Current release: Wheez-ie's Horizons EP is out via Evar.
Equipment recommendations: It’s really important that other musicians know that you can get good results from free plug-ins. There doesn’t need to be a high cost of entry to express yourself. I recommend the AirWindows plug-ins, and the Michael Norris Sound Magic Spectral plug-ins. I’m a big fan of “If it sounds good, it is good” so anything that you can find to express the idea that you have is worth trying out. The ideas that you have are important and worth spending time on. The “becoming a better artist” part of the equation isn’t gear related, but relates to your ability to express yourself in a clear, concise, and true way. Good luck with that struggle. :)
If you enjoyed this interview with Wheez-ie and would like to stay up to date on his music, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.
What was your first studio like?
My first studio was my family computer that had a copy of the Fruity Loops 2.5 demo on it. I had no idea what I was doing when I was in middle school, but I had a really fun time making beats.
I later conned my dad into buying Reason and I messed around with that for a few years then switched to Logic in my early 20s.
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?
My setup has evolved from a laptop and an audio interface to a quite large living room setup with multiple samplers, synths, guitar amps, a few outboard effects units, and some guitar pedals. I also have a pair of turntables set up to practice DJing and sample from my record collection.
This might be a bit boring, but the most important piece of gear is my computer. My studio is very much a hybrid digital/analog setup and I’d be pretty screwed without the computer. If you want a fun answer, I’d say the Emu E4xt sampler. Love that thing. (Please don’t make eBay prices go up because of this interview.)
The digital studio promises endless possibilities at every step of the process. What is it that you actually need from these potentials and how do go about you selecting it? How do you keep control over the wealth of options at the production stage?
Having a general idea of what you’re trying to achieve is crucial. I generally write music with a tempo or feeling in mind and work from there. After the track starts to take shape, I try to do what is right for the music, and put my preconceived ideas about what I intended to make aside.
This will probably get hammered down more throughout this interview, but I find that expressing ideas through sound is the most challenging part of writing music. There is a constant battle between “peak time banger” and expressing an idea that is hopefully a bit deeper than the club or a rave will allow. Editing down music to reflect a clear and concise feeling is something I’m getting better at, though I do miss some of the chaos of my earlier music.
There is also a balance between what will sound great on a big sound system and how the same piece of music works at home. I also play dubplates and vinyl as a DJ so that is a priority for me as well.
To (hopefully) put it simply, aside from the musical aspect of writing, the feeling behind the way music sounds and the intended playback medium of that music has a huge impact on the writing and editing process.
A studio can be as minimal as a laptop with headphones and as expansive as a multi-room recording facility. Which studio situation do you personally prefer – and why?
I prefer somewhere in between. The current iteration of my studio is in my living room. It’s treated with acoustic panels and has a lot of gear from various eras. I have a really hard time feeling comfortable enough to write music that I care about in a room that I don’t feel comfortable in.
I’ve done engineering in a variety of rooms and the most important thing is finding a setup that allows you to wrap your head around the way professionally mastered music sounds and base some of your engineering decisions off of those references. Headphones also eliminate some of the room, and I use them a lot.
From traditional keyboards to microtonal ones, from re-configured instruments (like drums or guitars) to customised devices, what are your preferred controllers and interfaces? What role does the tactile element play in your production process?
I’m mostly a point and click mouse producer, but I do have a Jp-8000 that I use as a controller keyboard and I just got a Cirklon. I’ve been using the Cirklon to try to break my tendency for traditional melodies and harmonies. I feel like approaching music through a keyboard or guitar or something really makes my writing inherently tonal and the Cirklon has a done a really good job of helping me get out of that when I need to. I have a tendency to use traditional instruments traditionally, and it’s helped me to use step sequencers to get away from my natural instincts.
How would you describe the relationship between technology and creativity for your work? Using a recent piece as an example, how do you work with your production tools to achieve specific artistic results?
I sometimes feel like I’m fighting the equipment - but I’m always fighting myself.
Using my track “Pressure” as an example, I had a “zap” sound that I ran through Isotope’s Trash 2 plug-in. I used the delay function on that plug-in to make this really weird siren sound that became the real meat of that track. It was a complete accident, and for the “B Section” of the track, it took me a while to figure out how to keep the “zap” sound but lose the siren part of it. All of this came out of a few hours of trying different ideas and completely failing.
I feel like a large percentage of writing for me is failing and not letting the equipment win. Sometimes the creative part is understanding what the track needs, and figuring out whatever you can do to meet that need.
Within a digital working environment, it is possible to compile huge archives of ideas for later use. Tell me a bit about your strategies of building such an archive and how you put these ideas and sketches to use.
As much as the dance music community likes to pretend that having a career as an artist isn’t a competition, at a certain point writing electronic music is a numbers game. There are only so many labels, and those labels only have the budget to put out so many records in any given year. So there are a limited number of spots on a lineup or on a label, and there is only so much airtime available for any given artist at any given time. I feel like I have to write a ton of music a year to even have the chance of having anything get released.
That being said, I’m really trying to push my capabilities as a musician and I do not always finish music quickly. The past few years, I’ve blocked out months to only write out ideas and then blocked out months to only finish music. They are two different processes for me, and it’s helped a lot to split them up. This approach has allowed me to be more efficient in the studio.
Every so often, I go back to finish projects that were a bit ahead of my understanding at the time I first wrote them. Those projects usually do not come out for many years, if at all. This doesn’t include the music not being aligned with whatever current trend is happening at any given time.
My latest record “Horizons” is a great example of this, as three out of the four tracks are from at least 8 years ago. Looking at current trends in dance music and how these tracks fit into them, you may not be able to tell that I wrote these tracks almost a decade ago.
Despite the aforementioned near endless possibilities, many productions seem to follow conventional paths. How do you retain an element of surprise for your own work – are there technologies which are particularly useful in this regard?
Writing music that is surprising or interesting is difficult to do. We’ve had around 40 years of popular electronic music history and we’re still referencing its past.
Many DJs and producers are very conservative musically. Bending to whatever the popular sound is at any moment is incredibly tempting, and I’ve fallen to that at times. Given the choice of “hope to maybe pay rent through music” or “be original” most will choose to get in line, as being original isn’t really rewarded until it is. Creating surprising or innovating music in a world that isn’t particularly interested in that music is difficult.
In my experience, the idea or concept is the interesting part of writing. There will always be a new piece of gear that lends itself to certain sounds and certain styles of writing, but in the end, the creativity of the person using that piece of gear to express an idea is the most interesting thing to me.
Production tools can already suggest compositional ideas on their own. How much of your music is based on concepts and ideas you had before entering the studio, how much of it is triggered by equipment, software and apps?
Most of my music is thought about before I sit down in the studio, but I usually intuitively pick a piece of gear that will help me get the idea down as fast as possible. When I get stuck, I’ll sometimes pick a plug-in or synth and try to get an interesting idea out of it, then mess up that sound by running it through other things in my studio.
I enjoy the “studio as an instrument” technique and sometimes running a drum machine through a synth filter through a guitar pedal through a delay through a plug-in, etc., is the right thing to push the track to the next step. Experimentation is key and you never know what will help get a track to where it needs to be.
How important is it for you that you personally create or participate in the creation of every element of a piece – from sound synthesis via rhythm programming to mixing?
I don’t use presets and my ability (or lack thereof sometimes) to make sounds is really important to me. It’s taken me a while to understand that whatever I write is an expression of where I am in life, and that sometimes I may not be at the point where I can articulate an idea clearly. I usually revisit those projects later and some get finished, some get reworked, and some go on a backup drive because they weren’t good enough to begin with.
My phrasing has a very distinct style that is derived from the way that I cut while DJing, and my final mix is usually pretty utilitarian because once I’ve gotten to the point where the vibe is right, I’m only trying to get everything to sit well on vinyl and on a big sound system. I’m pushing myself constantly to get better at expressing my ideas through sound and all of this can be a challenge at times.
Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Getting into 90s samplers really changed the way that I look at music.
Each sampler I own has its own character and is used for different things. I was trying to emulate 90s Hardcore/Jungle/Dnb records and get that sound absorbed into my own music, and after getting my hands on a sampler from that era it really opened my eyes to the feeling that you can get from a sound.
I could’ve recreated some of that vibe in the computer, sure, but there’s some magic going on in the old boxes.
To some, the advent of AI and 'intelligent' composing tools offers potential for machines to contribute to the creative process. Do you feel as though technology can develop a form of creativity itself? Is there possibly a sense of co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I understand how this will sound old fashioned, but I’m mainly interested in the way that human creativity utilizes technology to create art. I’ve seen AI generated visual art and heard AI generated music, and I don’t find that it’s particularly compelling.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s interesting that we have the technology to do that, but until we get a T-800 making bronze sculptures to help John Connor stop Skynet, I’m not particularly interested. I do feel like having AI or “intelligent” tools to create sounds that we then modify or sample is interesting, but I don’t feel like we’re currently at the point that AI generated art is more than a novelty. I’m sure that someone will tell me that I’m wrong after this interview comes out. If that someone isn’t some sort of bot then that just proves me right.
Do you personally see a potential for deeper forms of Artifical Intelligence in your music?
Not at the moment.
What tools/instruments do you feel could have a deeper impact on creativity but need to still be invented or developed?
I know this was more of a music related question, but I find the way that we have to communicate and sell ourselves on the internet to have a huge impact on what I’m doing creatively.
Many artists have to deal with the algorithm allowing them views on whatever platform they can gather an audience on. We’re all competing for the same audiences, and in many cases, we’re having to make creative decisions to appease a fickle audience that is awarded to us by big faceless corporations that are selling our information to other big faceless corporations. I don’t have an answer on how to fix this, but I really wish that there was a way to connect with people that doesn’t involve distilling art down to the lowest common denominator to be allowed to have a fan base. I just wish we would stop pretending that everything doesn’t look and sound the same, but at the end of the day we all need to pay rent.
Part of me wonders what music would sound like if we spent more time on music and less time trying to gamify social media.