American Science is the new electronic music project from Columbus producer, Tony Stewart. Tony and I go way back, and we touch on most of that in the interview, so he doesn't need much of an introduction here. Without further adieu, here we go...
Digisaurus: So you and I have quite a history. When I first moved to Columbus in 2006, I had a bunch of crappy songs about my then ex-girlfriend, and I found you on Craigslist with a recording studio ad for what turned out to be your basement set up. From there flourished a now 11 year relationship where you mentored me in the ways of music recording and opened up a studio with me called Electraplay. Locally, we worked on records for Indigo Wild, The George Elliot Underground, The Town Monster, and Brujas Del Sol. We also recorded artists and bands like Phantogram, Maps & Atlases, Damien Jurado, Lydia Loveless, and Langhorne Slim for our "Live at Electraplay" series with Donewaiting.com and the Local Pop Radio Hour on WCRS. For those not familiar with Tony Stewart, tell us about your origins in music and how you came to focusing on audio engineering and producing?
American Science: Wow, 11 years? I suppose my love of music goes back to as early as I can remember. My parents owned retail music instrument stores when I was growing up so that didn’t hurt in feeding my passion for it. In one form or another, I’ve always been doing something with music. I did the band thing for years and worked in a variety of studios along the way. I always saw recording/producing as an artistic extension of an artist’s material and loved helping people realize their vision on “tape”. After my days of gigging were long gone, I really wanted to focus on helping others realize their vision and our time at Electraplay was incredibly gratifying. Really proud of what we produced out of there.
*Digisaurus note: Here's an old promo video from Electraplay*
Digisaurus: How did you try and approach each project you produced or engineered at Electraplay? What were some of your favorite projects and highlights for you?
American Science: Well for me, I think it is all about the people, the personalities and the ability to communicate. Don’t get me wrong, I love gear as much as the next guy, but great gear does not equate to a great recording. I always tried to make people feel comfortable and secure in trusting us with their babies. One thing I think that really helped us there was the physical design of the place. Quite out of necessity in order to maximize the live room, we built the control room upstairs. An unexpected byproduct of that was the consistent feedback from bands that they felt like they were just at rehearsal when we were tracking. I think having us physically removed from them just added to the overall vibe and comfortable feeling people had there.
As for favorite projects, well you named a few of the highlights already. We did so much there. I think one of the coolest things we did was actually streaming live over the airwaves of WCRS. That was a great example of just how far technology had come. Of course that was until the power crapped out on us one night right in the middle of a session!
The only other thing that really pops for me was how Electraplay turned out to be such a hub, a conduit really into such an expansive and supportive community of musicians. We had great partnerships with local food drives, local radio and other community events that really enhanced the cultural fabric of this city. Oh…and I met so many great friends along the way.
Digisaurus: Electraplay ended up closing up shop as a recording studio a couple of years ago when we both decided to pursue other interests (bands now use the building as a rehearsal space). You now write and produce music under the moniker, "American Science," a project that combines instrumental pop production, ambient synths, and crunching beats to create a very unique sound. Tell me more about your philosophies and approach to how your crafting the sound of American Science?
American Science: I mean I can’t not make music. Honestly, I haven't quite figured out yet what it is or will become. There have already been a few iterations of the project since I started it a couple of years ago. At first, friends were coming in randomly to contribute a guitar part here, a bass line there, etc. Recently, it has been more of just me just playing on my macbook. I will say I find it a bit interesting now that although I still have most of the gear from Electraplay, I essentially use none of it. As for my approach, I never go into anything for any notion of anything….except for maybe BPM. If I want something totally chill, dial down the BPM and find a patch, a loop, a sound..anything that inspires you. Then it all just tends to flow. And the quicker the better.
Digisaurus I think it's pretty telling and indicative of the times that we're both primarily creating music through our laptops now in lieu of owning a recording studio. On the technology side, how have things changed in terms of the tools and programs your using versus when you worked out of Electraplay? In terms of songwriting and studio production, what are some of your favorite instruments, programs and/or plug-ins to work with? How have you successfully implemented those tools as an artist?
American Science: Yeah, it’s like I mentioned…it is really interesting and very welcomed! There was something incredibly satisfying back in the day working with reel to reel and splicing tape til your fingers bled and all that but honestly, I’m loving how accessible this is for everyone, for people who never could learn to play an actual instrument. I mean most of EDM is like that right. Having the background of the old school process has been incredibly helpful for me but at the end of the day for me, it is about a sonic landscape that I am trying to build. You can get there so much quicker now than ever before and I love it.
I think for the most part what I do now all starts with a loop or beat for inspiration. 9 times out of 10 the loop ends up getting cut from the final track. Interestingly, that was a big thing I learned….Never be afraid to cut your favorite part of a tune if it doesn’t do the overall track justice. As far as tools, I use logic pro x and absolutely love it. it’s amazing how solid and deep it is. At electraplay, I had probably 100’s of plug ins and this time around after finally converting to the Mac platform, I made a conscious (and fiscally sound) decision to limit my plug ins. I would say from a processing perspective you can be sure to find me using the logic built in plugs most of the time and are supplemented with a few Waves stuff like the DBX 160. My go to mix bus is always the same: Logic EQ, Waves Puigchild Comp, Waves Greg Wells Mixcentric and the L2.
As far as synths..i think I have every one available for the ipad and inside Logic..love Alchemy and the EX24 sampler. I’ve been getting much deeper into importing samples, chopping them up and experimenting. Big fan of Maschine and the Nave on ipad.
Digisaurus: We released a remix you did of my single, “I Don’t Feel Alright,” last week and I'm so happy we got to collaborate on something again. The concept of “remixing” is often left pretty open to interpretation to artists, and yours takes the song in a lot of different directions. You've left some vocal and instrumental phrases in tact, but also added a lot of your own instrumentation. On top of that, you've moved things around a lot so the structure, timing, and feel of the song is quite different. How did you decide on this approach and give us some insight into the process from when you received the stems to completing the final mix?
American Science: I fell in love with the first 10 seconds of the tune and that really became the bed for the entire track…I wanted something that was sort of chill in the beginning but then really kicked in at the end….i think I accomplished that. Having said all that, I didn’t have any sort of plan…I never do. I just dive in and start messing around. Something either usually emerges organically or more often than not, it doesn’t. For me, this track just screamed for a more chill version with a little bit of angst in the back half. I loved the lyrics, kind of picked the ones that just magically seemed to resonate with me and a certain time in my life. Even though I chopped it up, it still seems to tell a good story. Gotta get up and gotta get with the ticking clock of c4 bombs…really? that is fucking awesome...Hope you enjoyed it!
Digisaurus Lastly, anything coming up for American Science in 2017?
American Science: Yeah, actually I just threw up a recently completed ep which you can hear on soundcloud. I also have a plan to throw up the catalog from say the last 20 years or so... eventually…..