An Interview with Music Producer Michael Chambers (moon:and:6)
Michael Chambers (also known as moon:and:6) is a musician, producer and recording engineer based in Hamilton, Ontario. He creates music that combines influences that include French downtempo music, '90s post-rock music and musical mad scientists like Brian Eno and Steve Reich to form nuanced, intelligent electronic music. I talked to him about his start in music, the process he follows as he creates new music and his album entitled A Brief History of American Space Travel.
Interview with Michael Chambers
Karl Magi: Where did your passion for music start?
Michael Chambers: My father’s a musician, so I grew up in a really musical household. He was a guitar player and a singer. Music was around but it wasn’t until I was about 12 when I actually realized that was something special or cool, but at that point I wasn’t interested in guitar, I wanted to play keyboard. I had a paper route, I saved up some money and I bought myself a Casio SK-1 which was a little sampling keyboard. It was my first introduction to being able to make my own music on an instrument that I could play (or at least sort of play).
At that point, I thought that I needed to take piano lessons, but I had to bug my parents to allow me to take piano lessons because my mom had a very bad experience with a piano teacher when she was a kid. She thought it wasn’t going to last, but it lasted! I actually ended up with a really great piano teacher. At that point, the Casio SK-1 wasn’t going to work any more. My parents ended up getting a proper piano for me to play.
Once I hit high school, I realized that guitar was cool, so I taught myself how to play guitar after that. I left the keyboard thing behind and was totally into playing in grunge rock bands through high school. During that process, I got interested in the technology behind making music, so I got myself a four track recorder to overdub things and create recordings
KM: Talk about the arc of your career as a musician.
MC: As I finished up high school, I knew that I wanted to do music as a career. I really wanted to get into the production side of things, so I ended up going to school to study music production. It was what got me into all of the studio work that I got to do after that.
From that point on, I played guitar with bands in Toronto. I was in a band called the Golden Dogs, we actually did pretty well, we got signed to True North Records in 2004. It was about the same time that I left the band because we’d started touring, but I realized that my love for making music was really the generative part of it. The late nights, long drives and being locked in a small room with the same people for days at a time wasn’t for me.
Eventually I moved out of Toronto because the real estate market was booming. I moved to Hamilton because I could actually afford to buy a house there. As an independent musician and producer, I knew I wasn’t going to get approved for a mortgage in Toronto! I ended up working in a studio in Hamilton called Catherine North. The owner of the studio at the time was Dan Achen who was the guitar player for Junkhouse. I worked with him for a few years, but he unfortunately passed away very unexpectedly in 2010. Life was a bit upside down at that point and I didn’t know what the future would hold.
Myself and one of the other engineers at the studio ended up taking over all the projects at the studio. We ended up keeping the studio running with great support from Dan Achen’s family. They were absolutely wonderful to work with.
I got into the music scene here in Hamilton after that. I ended up working on some pretty amazing projects. I recorded and mixed Whitehorse’s first two records. One of the other records that Dan had just finished when I moved here was City & Colour’s Bring Me Your Love. After that, the studio kept getting calls from acoustic artists. There was nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to do something outside of it.
I leaned towards doing electronic music because I wasn’t able to do that with the artists I was working with. I got to the point that I was going to do my own record because I’d worked on hundreds of records for other people and played in other people’s bands but I’d never done my own thing.
KM: Talk about the concepts, elements and ideas that interest you in music.
MC: Certainly when I was working on the last record, I was thinking about travel and discovery. I had discovered NASA’s audio archives online, and I was fascinated with all the stories I could hear in them. This idea of going somewhere and exploring, through space travel in this case, was so intriguing. And thinking about all the things that were going on at NASA through the ‘50s, ’60s and ‘70, I got into that headspace. I thought, “Wow! That was phenomenal! There hasn’t been this kind of endeavour since.”
I also really like trains and public transit and things like that, so I have a concept of doing an album that’s based on traveling on the Toronto subway. I want you to be able to put your headphones on and get on at Kipling station on the West End and get off at Kennedy station in the east and have the music somehow make sense with that experience.
KM: What’s the process that you go through when you’re creating new music?
MC: Usually it starts with me noodling around on piano or guitar. When I was working on A Brief History of American Space Travel, I knew what I wanted the concept of the album to be, but I didn’t know what the songs were yet. I’d have a four bar idea or eight bar melodic or chordal idea which was the genesis of each of the songs. I tried to turn each of those ideas into a piece of music that tells a story. Most of the time the whole piece doesn’t just come out at once. It’s a work in progress until I finally decide, “Okay. That’s it. It’s done!”
KM: Talk about your view of the electronic music scene in Canada.
MC: Being a studio guy, I don’t see a lot of the actual live scene. I don’t get out as much as I may like, but I’ve noticed that when my record and my good friend ttwwrrss’ record came out, they got lots of plays on campus and community radio stations. His record was actually number one on the Earshot! electronic charts for a while. When I see stuff like that, even though I’m not out there DJing and promoting my recording, I know that there’s a community of people who are interested in listening to and sharing that music.
I know there are audiences for this across the country. Great music is even coming out from Hamilton where I am. Caribou was originally from here, Junior Boys are from here, even Deadmau5 has a studio not far from Hamilton. These are some of the top electronic music artists in the world.
There’s a free event here in Hamilton called Supercrawl. I saw Junior Boys play there. I also saw Humans out of Vancouver do a live set there which was phenomenal. It’s nice to see people out and enjoying this stuff! It is certainly a vibrant scene.
KM: What are your plans for your musical career in the near future?
MC: Part of it is my subway album idea. I’m going to continue doing remixes. One other exciting thing is that my album is actually coming out on vinyl this summer. I’m excited to get that out there, along with that some of the artists I know around here are hopefully going to do some remixes of my stuff too. There will be lots more of me whether it’s in remix form or in a new album. The new album is probably further off. My job as an engineer/producer means that I’m always working on somebody’s music, but doing my stuff in between.
KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries?
MC: A lot of that comes from collaborating and working on other people’s music. It’s a great way to get inspired. I find that it opens my eyes to new, creative ways of putting chords, melodies or instruments together. Seeing other people’s workflows and thought processes is always a good way to get recharged. It’s the same thing with doing remixes of other people’s stuff because you get to hear where the raw material was and where it got to.
I also enjoy things that aren’t music like reading, going for a run or doing something that’s more of a reset than a recharge.