Me: Coming up in the world, what was it like being Karl as a kid just listening to music?
Karl: I recall really liking “Daughter” by Pearl Jam when I was in 3rd grade. A friend of my mom bought a copy of Vs on cassette to go along with my first walkman, and in general, that cassette was in rotation a lot in that Walkman. The first track I memorized was probably “Fu-Gee-La” by the Fugees. Listening back on revision4920, my flow was definitely influenced by equal measures of Wyclef Jean and Lauren Hill.
Me: What got you into the Indie Music Scene?
Karl: Probably listening to Seattle-area grunge bands as a kid. I’m definitely a 90’s kid in spite of having been born in the 80’s, and so the DIY aspect that permeated Seattle both in music and culture in general definitely made me feel like I could do it on my own.
Me: When you're not at your 9-5, how much time do you spend in the music production process?
Karl: Oddly enough, I happened to record vocals for 6 new songs before this interview, but it was an usual stroke of luck. I’ve been exhausted from my day job, and I just don’t often have the time or energy to record vocals when I get home. I think now that I have an Android device again and that Caustic 3 (my favorite android production software) is out I’ll at least be able to do some more instrumental stuff. Maybe I’ll make a Music For Tablets 2 sometime soon. Also, this little productive streak could be the start of another binge of writing. Maybe I’m finally wound up enough about work problems I have angst that I can put into music. I mean, it’s lame, privileged, middle-aged angst, but angst.
Me: What's something that you've become really intense about when you're working?
Karl: As a musician? Probably live performance. It’s really fun, and I’ve become good enough at it that I always feel like the crowd is having fun too. A close second is completing new music. There is a real sense of accomplishment when I finish an album, especially the Nerdcore albums as they’re usually the culmination of ideas I may have had since the previous Nerdcore album I’ve done.
Me: Would you drop your day job?
Karl: If I could support myself reliably with it without dramatically changing my style and subject matter, I would. I really love producing for other people as well, so I do wish I could do that more often as well. Which I think I could if this were my main career.
Me: How hard are you grinding your gears to get the most out of every day?
Karl: Harder than I should sometimes, but not hard enough other times. I’ve done 6pm to 6am shifts in the computer lab after a full day of classes. I’ve done vocals for half an album in a weekend. I’ve binge-watched shows I hate so that I could write a review. When I’m on call at work, I wake at 6am to make sure executives get emails. However, I’ve also not properly capitalized on opportunities that could’ve led toward me finding a real career in each of my main skills faster.
Me: Are you ever satisfied enough with your work to leave them with the ages?
Karl: More or less never, because I’ll always go back to my earlier work (be that in music, journalism or software,) and see a dozen things I’ve learned to do better since. That said, I’ll also often be pleasantly surprised by the little clever elements I’d forgotten I’d woven in, so as much as I’m never satisfied, I’m not let down by my work either.
Me: Have you been able to create your own success just by putting yourself out there into the Indie Music Scene?
Karl: I would contest that exposure aside, I’m not that successful with this by the usual metrics of Facebook fans/Twitter followers, albums sales/downloads and touring. Shoot, a lot of my friends in the Northwest Nerdcore scene have done much more with much less exposure. Death*Star tripled their Kickstarter goals before they had ever traveled outside of the Pacific Northwest to perform. Nursehella has had very similar exposure to me, and she’s outselling me by at least of order of magnitude and has 4-5 times as many fans/followers.
That said, I’ve stayed active in this because my stubborn perseverance turned into a habit. Set me down in front of any piece of production software, or even just give me an instrument and a cassette recorder, and I’ll make a song. With software I’m comfortable with, I’m usual literally mixing and mastering my music as I make it. I haven’t found, and I may never have, an audience as large as my peers’ fanbases, but I’ll be in the nursing home making music via a cyberbrain when I’m not being charmingly retro and using an old android tablet or something.
I mean, I couldn’t stop making music if I tried, and I have at points. I specifically didn’t bring gear with me to Canada when I started at SFU. Yet, by the time I was done I had produced Animatic, which is my longest album ever. I also worked on cuo2duo’s Best of all Tiem, Rai Kamishiro’s Cor Leonis and Cor Leonis Remix, the Katawa Shoujo remix EP, two mixtape EPs, two electronica EPs, and of course Nursehella’s debut album Second Coming. Oh, I also had a lot of instrumentals left over, and I’d done production for other artists. It’s ridiculous.
Me: Wow. Do you have any spare time to account for being able to just be lazy?
Karl: I usually write music or write software, if there is enough spare time to do so. Otherwise, I watch anime and read manga. On the anime side, I’m currently in the middle of Kill La Kill, Gatchaman Crowds and I may or may not finish Meganebu. On the manga side, I’m currently following Genshiken: Second Season, Nana to Kaoru (both series), Watamote, Pochimani and I just read the last installment of Reversible School Days. (Side Note: I’m pretty sure I reference, if not write whole songs about, all of those titles on my next album.) I suppose I play a few cellphone games too, but these days it’s hard for me to justify the time on gaming as I could spend that time writing reviews, music or software.
Me: Getting back to your music, what work would you say you're most proud of?
Karl: Really, probably the whole of Romance Language is my favorite considering I recorded it in about a month and yet it’s still one of my most emotionally intense and sonically united works, but the opener, “Broken Sutures,” is a great thesis statement for that album. It’s undoubtedly a Nerdcore song, but sonically it’s still very different than most everyone else’s production. I know I have a signature sound to some extent, but I don’t think anyone else in Nerdcore has made a song or album that sounds like that. I also think I’m still one of the more personal, open artists in the genre, but that track is a rare moment where I manage to most solidly connect a piece of otaku culture back to my personal story. In general, I like that album because I don’t think I could write that way again. I could make another “Nerdcore Life” in a heartbeat, and I could write songs about my favorite anime of a given moment no problem, but Romance Language is a once in a lifetime record. Not necessarily a creative apex, but it’s undoubtedly unique.
If we open up “yours” to mean stuff I worked on, I’d probably say that Nursehella’s “Drop It Once More” is probably my personal favorite. It’s a total club banger, yet the references and wordplay are sharp and witty, plus the energy just keeps building until it’s totally unhinged yet still smooth. However, Nursehella was very closely involved with the production process, so I can’t even take half the credit.
Karl: George Lucas, erase from time style? Nothing. Remake or remix? There is probably a genuinely great drum n’ bass album in the mess of my older material if I went back and did fresh versions of them in modern software of any sort. I mean, I made a lot of music on an 8-track pocket sequencer from Yamaha called QY70. It’s a good machine - Freezepop uses one apparently, and Squarepusher uses it’s amped up cousin, the QY700 - but I could do more with Caustic 3 and a 50 dollar Android tablet these days. However, going back to my back-catalog for recomposition work is a project for when I don’t have something new to do instead.
Me: How do you feel about touring?
Karl: If I could do it and know I was either opening for an act that had a draw, or that I could fill the venue myself, I would do it in a heart beat. It’s a bucket list thing if nothing else because I’ve only seen a small fraction of the Earth. I either have to tour, or I have to live internationally such that trips back to visit my parents require an around the world trip.
Me: Your openness, in regards to your life, up until now has been very forthright and I thank you, but now I want to know the truth. What is it like to be one of the 24hr Party People?
Karl: HA! No way. Yes, I will occasionally, rarely go to some kind of cool party, be that a blog party after CES at the Bellagio Hotel in Vegas, or an underground house party in Vancouver, or a freestyle rap circle in Seattle. However, as someone who doesn’t smoke, drink or get high, I’m not the stereotypical partier. I’m pretty insular - most nights I stay in and either try to record music, catch up on anime I need to review or write some mobile phone software. Should I actually do something after work, I’ll go watch the latest Adventure Time and Steven Universe episodes and play Cards Against Humanity with my friends. In fact, even my nerdy friends party harder than me. Though, I also suppose I don’t need any mind altering substance to be social and never have; I gave up worrying about what people think of me a while ago (not that I don’t like compliments and praise, I just don’t care about negative responses.) Maybe that makes me the ultimate partier; comfortable anywhere!
Really though, I work a 9-to-6 that is all too often a 9-to-7 or 9-to-8 and I’m not taking any more than an hour for lunch, if that. In fact, on my birthday this year (where-in I was turning an already easy-to-feel-down about 30), which was the day before Thanksgiving, I had to take a short, very late lunch at McDonalds, and I had to work until 7:30pm to deploy an internal monitoring website. The only thing that made up for it was that the weekend before, I’d received an awesome Lacoste shirt from Nursehella as a birthday gift. That shirt, when combined with the great Billionaire Boys Club hoodie I found at a thrift store a while back, got a lot of compliments while I was walking to the McDonalds for lunch.
When I really think about it, it’s first world problems stuff - I have a job that easily supports me and then some, I have a great group of friends and my down time hobbies are rather productive and creative. It’s by no means a life with real problems. However, after busting my butt at Simon Fraser University to get a Computer Science degree, I figure I can do better than what I have, so dealing with worse is frustrating. It bothers everyone who knows me as well, so it’s something I plan on changing soon by finding a better job.
It should go without saying though that the above should be proof I am no Andrew WK. Though, I too would cover classic Gundam songs if given the chance.
Me: Is there any person, or group, out there that you would like to work with?
Karl: I still haven’t actually done a track with Frontalot, and I feel like it’s a right of passage thing for Nerdcore MCs. Like, that’s the cosign to get in this community unless you’re a force in your own right. However, I’d be totally willing to skip that and just do a song with say, Lupe Fiasco or the Blue Scholars.
Me: What’s next for the great Ultraklystron?
Karl: For my next album (working title: Unwarranted Self Importance,) 9 songs are finished, barring me finding some odd ball little flaw to fix, though so far, it’s been a really clean, straightforward process. I’m kind of shocked by my progress on it myself. I’d been so busy with my new job that I figured a new album would be a mid-2014 thing even though I’ve all of my instrumentals created and lyrics written for months, but unless the album length feature creeps like Animatic did, it’s probably going to be ready in time for SakuraCon/Norwescon (not that either booked me, but I like having something new on me during con season.) Also, I don’t intend to do another 22/38 track long album any time soon. It worked okay with Animatic, but I should’ve sat on the remixes for a separate release rather than having the deluxe download. I think it was too much to throw at people. I’m trying to avoid doing too much in the way of alternate mixes for my next album until I release it, both to ensure the production process is more focused and to make sure that if I basically remix my whole next album, then that remix album it’s own special thing. This CD will maybe 13 songs. I might cut a couple tracks and bring it down to 11.
Collab-wise, I just sent 20 unused backings that are mostly from the Opensource Lyricist/Fourth Estate era of my career to my friends Death*Star. It was really something to see them go through the instrumentals and come up with song concepts based on the vibe of the song in real time. I think it’s gonna be an interesting project because they’re rather good at sticking to themes, and even when they are more serious, I think they are much better at keeping it more lively than myself. They’re also really about their skits in a way that I’m not, so that should be pretty interesting as well.
Beyond that, I know Nursehella wants to do a grunge rock EP and a HipHop mixtape, and I’ll probably be handling production on both, though I think I’ll need to be back in Canada to make the logistics on that work well. However, I just locked down my dual citizenship (my dad was born in Canada, so it’s actually my birth right by law,) so I just need to find a job in Canada. Should be pretty straightforward. I guess what’s really next is a job search!
Oh, and within next five years, I want to do Jet or Aeon (if I can’t tour or get a software job) so I can live out in Japan for a bit. I loved visiting Japan this past spring, and now I just feel let down by other urban centers. Whether it’s the late-night neon of Shibuya, the maid cafes and anime goods shops in Akihabara, the countless global history sites in Kyoto or even a quiet stroll in a small town near Mt. Fuji, it’s just kind of amazing to be there. I feel like I’d be wasting my life if I didn’t use my education not only for it’s obvious opportunities, but it’s more niche ones as well.
Me: Thanks again for the Interview, Karl. I really enjoyed picking your brain, but now it's time to say goodbye. Oh, wait. It's the LIGHTNING ROUND! You have 5 minutes to name drop all the artists you think we should get into. GO!
Karl: It’s a big list. I think rap artists like the Odd Future collective, Childish Gambino, Chamillionaire, Lupe Fiasco, Blue Scholars, Common Market, A$AP Mob and Kanye West do some rather exciting with things their production choices and their various approaches to lyricism. I think top-tier Nerdcore artists like MC Lars, Mega Ran/Random, Richie Branson, YTCracker and of course MC Frontalot make great music, and are rather adept at both being good musicians while also really locking into Nerd themes with every track.
I probably wouldn’t be into hiphop though without The Fugees, Nas, 2pac, The Notorious B.I.G, The Beastie Boys and Beck. Though, I probably wouldn’t have started into making music without being into grunge and alternative music, so artists like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, The Smashing Pumpkins, Veruca Salt, Cibo Matto, Bjork and Cornelius definitely had an effect on my aspirations as well classic acts like the Velvet Underground and Jimi Hendrix (thanks Dad). From the electronic music side, musicians like Roni Size, The Chemical Brothers, Jordana, High Contrast, Air, Fatboy Slim, Concord Dawn, London Elektricity, Yellow Note, DJ Shadow, DJ Spooky, Daft Punk, Stardust and Goldie each spent a lot of time on CD walkman.
Of course, also I draw an immense amount of inspiration from anime and manga as well, so as much as any musician, there is no way I’d make what I make without the influences of CLAMP, Trigger, Gainax, Studio Ghibli, Peach Pit, yoshitoshi ABe, Chiaki Konaka, Hayao Miyazaki, Makoto Shinkai, Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki, Koge Donbo, Shinichiro Watanabe, Ai Yazawa, Shimoku Kio, Ryuta Amazume, Motoi Yoshida, Arina Tanemura, Maki Murakami, Miho Obana, Masaki Kajishima, Satoshi Kon and a lot more. Plus, that introduced me anime soundtrack music, and musicians like Yoko Kanno, Tenmon, HALCALI, Masanori Takumi and Ko Otani to name a few.
Me: Of course, just to name a few...
Karl: Really though, the people I personally collaborate and perform with often are probably the most special to me though. Producing for MC Lars, Chalkskin and Rai Kamishiro were interesting experiences where I learned new production tricks. It’s been a lot of fun to rap with Beefy, Mikal kHill, Richie Branson and Random. Everyone in the Emerald Empire - Death*Star, Billy the Fridge, VR, Shubzilla, Klopfenpop and so on - they’re great friends and they’re rather talented MCs who I love performing live and on records with. I think the production I did with Nursehella is my best work to date, and she’s pushed me creatively than anyone else I’ve worked with. She has incredible sense of what she wants musically, and she doesn’t let up until she gets exactly what was in her head on the track.
Me: Thanks again, sir.