An Interview with American Music Producer Mustin
Mustin is an American music producer who, although he's passionate about many genres of music, has a special place in his heart for video game music.
Along with his production work, he's also a co-founding member of the video game cover band The OneUps. I talked to him about how he became passionate about music, his creative approach to making music and where he finds inspiration.
Karl Magi: How did you first become interested in making music?
Mustin: I had no real knowledge about music as a kid, but coming into sixth grade there was a band program and I thought that if I played the saxophone I could get girls. I joined, the teacher handed me a saxophone and I just started playing it. I figured it out in the first night and I wasn’t great or anything but, by the end of the day, I was playing it pretty normally for a beginner. I took to it and since then I’ve just been playing music like crazy!
KM: When did you start to become interested in video game music?
M: I didn’t have cassettes or CDs or anything growing up. I wasn’t collecting music and listening to it outside of terrestrial radio, but I did really like the music in the games I was playing. Final Fantasy IV was the first game that got me emotionally. I started to notice the music in all the games. When I was in the band program, I learned to transcribe these pieces of music and then I would gather a few of my friends, do these little sectionals and have my friends play the music I wrote down. This was before smart phones and YouTube, so I had no real way to record it. That was where I first took my love of music, taking video game music and transcribing it to sheet music that people could play.
KM: Who are some of your musical influences and inspirations?
M: I remember back in my parent’s Pontiac, I remember hearing what I now know as Hall & Oates on the radio. I would say Hall & Oates is one of my three biggest influences, along with discovering the music of The Neptunes which was Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo producing together for all sorts of people and MJ Cole who I discovered on my birthday in the year 2000. I was at a CD store and I really liked the aesthetic of the album cover from MJ Cole’s Sincere. When I listened to the first track of the album, it was like hearing a sound that I’d never been able to hear outside of my own head before.
I would also say Mondo Grosso was a big influence for me. It’s a project by a Japanese producer named Shinichi Osawa. Mondo Grosso does an amazing mix of Braziilian hip hop and bossa nova with a Japanese sensibility, U.K. Garage drum sounds and English pop lyrics. It’s interesting stuff. That was one specific period of his music as he’s since turned more towards EDM and experimental stuff, but he’s a really talented dude.
KM: Tell me more about The OneUps and the Bad Dudes?
M: I was a co-founder of The OneUps with my buddy William Reyes who’s still in the group. I did leave the band for a couple of years while I was doing family stuff, but we started that in the year 2000 and our first show was at the first MAGFest in 2002, so we’ve been doing this for a long time.
The Bad Dudes is me and 13 of my other bedroom producer friends. With the band, we meet in the garage, practice, and then get on stage and perform. With the Bad Dudes, we just communicate through chats and then come up with an idea that we’ll do for an album and just coordinate it through email or we might help each other out and co-arrange something. It’s a producer circle.
KM: Tell me more about your approach to creating music?
M: I get inspired by all kinds of stuff. I’ve written original songs about ending relationships, I’ve made video game remixes about guilt and done all kinds of stuff for all sorts of reasons. With the Bad Dudes, we teamed up with Atlus who got the Kunio Kun line from Technos in Japan. They were doing Super Dodgeball on GBA and we did an arranged album of Super Dodgeball music. I assigned everything to people in the group, but I told everybody that they had to bring the heat. I didn’t want anything slow, so they all wrote these really banging tracks that were really exciting. Hypocritically, I arranged the most intense piece of music that happens when you fight your Shadow Team at the end, not as a crazy awesome bombastic tune but as a really sorrowful piano piece that was inspired by some heartache with my then girlfriend.
There’s all kinds of weird stuff that inspires me. I watched the film, Transcendent Man, about Ray Kurzweil that really knocked me back. The Bad Dudes did an album to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Metroid. After watching the movie, I did an arrangement of the Lower Brinstar level of Super Metroid which is a really haunting tune. I went and got some free sounds that were recorded from NASA satellites and put them into this track. It’s a really melancholy, spooky piece that I ended up calling Singularity. Sometimes I’ll hear a really cool keyboard sound and make an entire track, even if I never use that keyboard sound in the actual track, just because it got me going.
KM: Talk to me about The OneUps’ eighth album which you’re releasing in February?
M: An hour before you and I started talking, I sent the first track from The OneUps’ eighth album off to mixing. We’re wrapping up on album eight and we’re hoping to get that done before VGMCon in Minneapolis MN in February. We’re hoping to debut the album there.
I originally asked everybody in the group (which is four core dudes right now) to pick four tunes each. Nobody could argue with you about them. We ended up getting smooshed for time, so we picked stuff that we knew we had a good start on. It’s cool because a couple of these tunes are ones that we’ve promised people that we’d record for over 15 years. Now we’re finally going to do it.
On the other end of the spectrum, two of these tunes we haven’t even played as a group. They were just arranged by a person in the band and we each record our parts before we put them together. There’s a lot of guest stars which is great. We were able to have Anthony Lofton, who used to be a permanent member, play saxophone on five tracks with us. We’re featuring some trumpet and trombone, we have some violin in the mix which is nice because we used to have a permanent violinist as well. It’s going to be a nice album. We tried to push it past the ten tracks you normally get on an album these days. We’re hoping to hit 14 tracks of previously unrecorded material, so that’s exciting.
KM: What are the plans for your music going forward?
M: I’m excited about this current The OneUps album and I don’t want to stop, so I fully intend to finish up some of the things we cut from it and continue onto the ninth album. I’d like us to put out an album a year. That’s kind of aggressive because everybody in the band’s gotten married, had babies and kids and teenagers. It’s getting kind of wild, but I am going to push the band members to keep going. A couple of weeks ago, I got a box of CDs for my first real solo album which comes out on Valentine’s Day. I’m excited about that. I finished recording the first track on that album in 2003, so I’m really excited about it. I’m happy about the fact that even though some of these tracks are 15 years old, they still hold up and sound relevant. The whole album itself is very cohesive.
Even though my fireplace mantle is completely filled with albums that I have produced, played on, and arranged for, this will be the first album in the eighteen years that I’ve been doing music that will have my name only on the front. It’s called The World is Square and it’s all my favorite Squaresoft (now Square Enix) era music. The title is a reference to Final Fantasy VI and there’s music from Final Fantasy IV, VI and VII as well as Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana. It’s only eight tracks, but it still has over 40 minutes of play time.
I was pretty pleased because I just saw an album that came out today with ten tracks on it and only ran for 25 minutes. I have had guest performers to help me out like my friend Ailsean who did some guitar stuff for me and my friend Elaine Li played violin on two of the tracks and there are some vocalist girls on it, too, so I’m pretty excited. I also asked William Reyes and Tim Yarbrough from The OneUps to play guitar on it. It has some cool live elements and we had a hard time figuring out the genre. It’s just chill - it’s nice to listen to and makes good study music.
KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries?
M: If you find out, let me know because I’m not good at that stuff. I read about how you’re supposed to put away your phone, go for a walk or play baseball with your kid or something but I’m always going. I’m working all the time.
I got a new keyboard for the band so that’s been really inspiring. I got a couple of new sound libraries on Black Friday that got me excited too. The best thing to do is talk to your peers and friends to keep your creativity up, Maybe your partner is very supportive, but doesn’t know all the lingo and what’s going on, so you have to talk to people in your field and they’ll get you pumped up.