Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!
Cosmic Vertigo (James Beylik) is a synthwave producer who takes the music in a unique direction as he explores his interest in creating music with a "free form improvised feel, but one that's harmonically complex." In an email, we discussed his musical background, how he started making synth-based music and where he wants to take his music going forward.
Karl Magi: What first drew you to making music?
James Beylik: When I was very little, I had access to pianos, drums, and a guitar. I would spend hours making noise until somebody couldn't take it any more. I also went to church as a child which is where a great many musicians first learn music, and performance. I've just always had a need to create. Not just music, but visual art as well. As I became a teen, all of that was compounded by angst, and escapism. But it wasn't my forte considering all the other kids just did covers, and I wanted to write.
KM: Tell me about what lead you into making synth-based music?
JB: I had one of those Casio things when I was young. It was awful, and I was aware of that, but some of the settings made me wonder why music made with synths wasn't everywhere. The keyboards in the music stores were amazing, but I had no money. I ended up working with a former keyboardist from a very popular band for years, so I learned my way around the studio and experimented with genres. He was from an industrial music background, and I mostly played guitar or bass for recordings.
Then the world changed. Suddenly music for film and games wasn't going to support you, much less a whole studio. But look at the new job description for a musician -- constantly create. I felt that, for the first time, I was free to truly do my own thing and it just happened to best fit with synthwave. I love the retro nostalgic thing about it, but it's really just me trying to offer something truly different.
KM: Who are the artists that have most influenced your approach to music?
JB: I'll drop one name. Danny Elfman. Oingo Boingo just had this intoxicating quality I always wanted in my music. I actually met him, but he just sort of yelled at me. I think we are most influenced by those we actually work with, jam with, and are taught by. I'd like to give a shout out to the long suffering music teachers of my life. They rock.
KM: Talk to me about how you approach creating new music.
JB: Sometimes I have a clear idea of what I want to do already. It's just about sound design, and recording. Sometimes I have nothing so I'll start with a hook, and start layering melodies. More often I just open ProTools, and start sculpting. I've found that if I only have keys, nobody will listen to it, so I have to record electric guitar, and other organic instruments. What's most important for all of us to understand is tha we are the ones creating 21st century music, not the Top 40. They're just applying what's already been done to a formula. The #synthfam and all of these indie cats are forging the future.
KM: What are the current projects on which you're working?
JB: I had started doing a more listener friendly version of Cosmic Vertigo. I just didn't feel honest, so I scrapped it. The stuff I have out was me coming out of my jazz phase. I wanted a free form improvised feel, but one that's harmonically complex. I'm winding up for my next go, and I want Cosmic to evolve. I doesn't need to be contrived to be relatable melodically. I also wanted to do some Halloween-themed stuff before that, but I always think I have more time than I do.
KM: Where would you like to take your music in the future?
JB: I would love to do big fantastic shows, like a space age Pink Floyd. I want to do the kind of show that you remember for the rest of your life. That's just dreaming though. I'm still in the process of honing this thing, and I want to let it evolve it's own way.
KM: Give me your views on the Twitter #synthfam and what it means to you.
JB: Honestly it's the most warm and supportive group I've ever encountered in the music scene. I'm used to a vicious competitive music world, but not here. I couldn't do enough to repay their kindness. I'm glad I started my Twitter account.
KM: How do you recharge yourself creatively?
JB: Instead of seeing things as a rut, I stop trying to write about a fictional, glorified me. Write about what's really digging at you, you don't have to release it. Also good espresso and good times with friends. Let a good life inspire you. Like a professor said in music college, "It's the kid who never goes out that ends up writing about dungeons and dragons". My current day job has me on the road all the time, and a social life is hard, but I try.