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Interview: ReturnCodeZero

TF: What has brought you to this point in 2020? Why and how are you here having this interview?

RCZ: That’s a long story!! Well, I guess the reason we are having this interview is because Grey Meta are releasing my debut album, how I got to this point though, where do I begin! I’ll try to keep it condensed but I feel it's all relevant.

I wrote the album (Memory Programme) between April - Jun 2019 in what I would now consider a period of awakening for me after quite a turbulent time in my life. I’d been made redundant from a job I was in for 10 years and (in the same week) I was also subject to a random violent attack which left me with a broken shoulder (amongst other injuries). It sounds pretty horrific which it was for my partner and family, but I felt a massive sense of relief and like something had shifted in the universe for me, it sounds all kinda fucking hippie when I put it into words but I felt like I had been given a second chance, I really can't explain it. As I had time to recover and decide what I was going to do I started some fresh ideas in the studio completely from scratch. Rather quickly I had quite a few tracks that all had a certain feel to them and these tracks became MP. It was such a quick lucid process, again I can’t really explain it. It sounds cliche but Memory Programme just fell out of the sky. I couldn’t recreate it again or even tell you how I made it. After deliberating over whether it was any good or not I sent the demos to Miike (Teknoist) in March 2020 and he loved it, at this point he mentioned he was involved with starting up Grey Meta and sent it to the others involved and here we are! It’s all been a very organic process to get to this point. Thanks to all the team at Grey Meta.

TF: Can you talk about your creative process?

RCZ: I’m not sure I have one! Haha. Being creative is something that I have to do to keep sane, I don't necessarily see it as a process as such. I’d probably go as far as to say I’m addicted to being creative, it takes me away from reality, it's like a drug and I love it. Don’t get me wrong there are times with sound design stuff when it has to be a ‘process’ but for my own music I tend to just sit down, twiddle a few knobs and see what happens.

TF: Are there any concepts, methods or practices that you apply to your creative process?

RCZ: I’ve never really considered it before but I guess there is. I always try to envisage tracks being played in all situations, at home in a club etc and I try my hardest to try and capture a certain feeling within a track or a certain mood. I also much prefer to write material for albums rather than individual tracks or EP’s as I think music needs to be consumed as a whole and not a snippet. Maybe that’s because I’m a huge music fan and it means so much to me, who knows!? On a technical level though, getting a good recording and using good source material is key. I also like to work early in the morning with fresh ears and feeling rested, I tend to get the best results this way.


TF: Can you give some details about your approach to sound design?

RCZ: It all depends on the project and who it's for. But usually, I’d read the brief numerous times, discuss the requirements with the people directly involved and then decide where to start. The modular system I have put together is usually the first port of call as I can come up with ideas quickly or a software synth which I know can get me a certain sound, Massive or NI Analogue Dreams. A lot of the time with sound design a client will say they want something like this or that but I’ve what I’ve come to learn is that they really want it exactly like the example, which is tough sometimes because you are kind of limited with creativity but I get why, they need to sell shit or have a certain idea that they won’t budge on. It’s not always the case but it is very refreshing when I have free reign to design the sound.

TF: Do you have different approaches when making sounds for music compared to moving images?

RCZ: Yeah, definitely. With music it (the sounds) can be anything so I’ll just pull all the patch cables out of the modular and start patching, get something going and hit record then take the best parts from that and create samples, layers etc. A lot of music stuff is born from modular noodling then processed in Ableton or Pro Tools. With moving images I tend to watch the footage over and over and get a sonic picture in my head of what could work in line with the brief/examples I’ve been given and then I’ll decide how I’m going to get there. I tend to create a general feeling/soundbed with the images then add parts in as I go looking for cuts, and places where things need punctuating or need to be silent or build tension etc. I really enjoy both approaches for different reasons.

TF: Throughout your musical career you have shifted from mainly using software to using modular to create your sound, how did you find the shift and was there a specific reason for the change?

RCZ: I loved the shift! I spent years writing music solely with software and the odd bit of kit I borrowed and I had limited success with what I wanted to produce. I found that because I was working at a computer all day then trying to write music at night with a computer and a mouse, it became really tedious so I decided I was going to buy some hardware to try and invigorate myself and I stumbled into the Eurorack world. I was amazed at all these crazy looking modules (that I had no idea what they did) and it felt really refreshing to be able to build your own systems out of all these. I decided to buy the semi-modular Moog Mother32 and it went from there really. I love the fact that this stuff is so tangible and so unpredictable, it's never the same when you turn it back on, it feels really organic to me and suits the way I work. It is expensive though. I’ve got my eye on a couple of pieces of kit, namely the Soma Laboratory stuff, it's mental.


TF: Are you someone with a vision of what you want to create or is your sound born from experimentation and jamming?

RCZ: I’d say both. I always have a rough idea in my head about what sounds I'm looking for or a certain vibe I’m after and most of the time I can achieve something by jamming and experimenting. I like to let the modular go wild then try and tame it into something usable within the loose sonic ideas I have. The older I get though the more I learn and the more I am refining that vision and it's becoming a quicker process to get there. In the future, I’m going to introduce acoustic instruments into my work and use them in different ways. I recently bought a contact mic and can't wait to start experimenting.

TF: How has COVID affected your creativity?

RCZ: During the first lockdown I really struggled creatively. I went from working in a recording studio everyday to being a full-time parent for 14 weeks as my son's nursery was closed and my partner teachers vulnerable children. Don't get me wrong it was great to spend more time with my son and we had a lot of fun but it was a rollercoaster of emotion and I did find it really tough at times because when it's just you and a 3 year old for 8 hours a day there really is no time for anything else and it's quite an intense experience. The main thing I struggled with was that I had all these plans to develop and grow my business, finish new music and work and continue to learn more at the studio but I couldn’t make progress with any of it which got me down. I am quite an impatient person at the best of times so yeah it was hard. Due to COVID I’d say I’m about a year behind where I want to be (as I am sure everyone is). It's a proper shitshow and I wish the government had acted sooner and been stricter in the first instance, if they had we might not be in the situation we are facing now. I hope that the vaccine is successful and we can get back to some sort of ‘normality’ soon. I miss going to gigs and feeling music. I also miss chatting about music and films and stuff with my mates in the pub. I've come to realise that it's so important to me to have that kind of interaction.

TF: What artists, labels, ideas and concepts are you finding most inspiring at the moment?

RCZ: At this current moment in time I’m really digging IDLES, I love the energy and the topics they sing about. I think they are a really important band. I’m also currently exploring some new territory with Mammal Hands and their album Captured Spirits on Gondwana Records, fundamentally its jazz but with a dancy kinda twist. The album was recorded and mixed at the studio I’m involved with too (80Hertz, Manchester) so it was nice to see the progression of the album from the recording stages to the finished vinyl. I’m also having a little 90’s revival and listening to a lot of Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana -‘93 seems to be the year at the moment! I’ve recently got into Jeff Beck as well. Other artists that always inspire me though are Autechre, Meshuggah, Surgeon, AFX, Amon Tobin etc. Label wise, Delsin Records, Warp, TimeSig, Planet Mu, we could be here a very long time! I also really dig what Speedy J is doing with his STOOR project too, the Knob Twiddlers Hangout and the Stay at Home Sound System etc. The cross-continent jams he’s been doing have been pretty cool. In these times artists have been thinking outside the box and I am always watching what Jochem (Speedy J) is up to. I actually spoke to him on Discord recently and sent him some new tracks, the feedback was positive so that was extremely inspiring for me and gave my confidence a huge (much needed) boost.


TF: How important is what other people are doing to your creative outlook?

RCZ: It used to be extremely important for me and for years I tried to imitate certain peoples sounds and failed and then got downhearted because I was always comparing myself to great artists and never got the desired results. Over the years though I’ve learned it's better not to get too hung up on what others are doing and to follow your own path. Now I just listen to other peoples records for enjoyment and to get a tonal balance by A/Bing etc. It's more a technical thing now rather than creative. I’ve changed a lot as a person over the last 5 years and its allowed me not to give a fuck about what others think and focus more on the music.

TF: If you could give one piece of advice to budding music producers so they could avoid one hurdle you have struggled the get over, what would that be?

RCZ: There’s a lot of stuff I’ve learned recently that if I’d known earlier would have saved me a lot of time! I guess it would be to learn about gain staging and how to record stuff properly in the first instance. You could make the best sound in the world but if it's recorded badly, it's always going to sound bad. Also take it easy on the high frequency range, hf’s build up easily and a lot of the time they are unnecessary, roll some off and the mid range will sound better too.

TF: What is your current set up?

  • Avid Pro Tools 2020.9.1

  • Ableton Live 9 Suite

  • Waves Plugins (various)

  • 2 x Adam A7 Monitors

  • Mackie VLZ 1402 Mixer

  • Focusrite Scarlett 18i6

  • Shure SM57 Mic

  • Moog Mother 32

  • Lexicon MPX 100

  • Eurorack Modular System

  • M-Audio Xpression Controller

  • Korg Electribe ES-1

  • Roland PC-180A Midi Controller

  • Trace Elliot Supertramp Amplifier

  • Epiphone Les Paul Goldtop 56 - Electric Guitar

  • Bass Guitar

  • Acoustic Guitar

  • 2 x Technics 1210 Mk3

  • Allen & Heath Xone23 Mixer

I record everything through the Mackie into Ableton or PT via the Focusrite and then process and sequence in either of the DAWs. For creating sounds and my own tracks I use Ableton but for Mixing/ Mastering and external Sound Design Projects I use PT.

TF: Where do you see your sound heading in the future?

RCZ: I’m really conscious of not doing the same thing twice so I’m really pushing myself with the next few projects to do something completely different to Memory Programme. I’d say I’ve got 3-4 albums worth of stuff that is constantly being worked on. All spanning varying genres and ideas. In the time since writing Memory Programme, I have learned so much technically as well so in terms of sonics the sound is definitely going to be bigger, fuller and ready to compete with the big boys. I’d like to thank George Atkins and Karl Sveinsson at 80Hertz Studios for their advice and for sharing their knowledge with me. I've learned more in the last 18 months than in the previous 8 years of doing this!


TF: What inspires you outside of music?

Friends and Art.

RCZ: I know some amazing people who have helped me along the way and always believed in me, even when I didn't. So I’d like to thank my partner Jacqui for putting up with me, Miike (Teknoist) for always being supportive and believing, Simon Brooks for always being there and telling it like it is and for the opportunities. Also a shout to James Stiff for his design skills.

Art is a big inspiration, especially the abstract, macabre and surrealists. Dali, Giger, John Harris are all artists I really admire and I try to draw inspiration from their works. I’ll often sit down and look at their work and read about them and try and conceptualise or interpret how a picture would ‘sound’ in my head and try to recreate it. There's a concept album idea I have with this that I’m going to start work on soon. Shaun (Azrak) who does the art for Grey Meta is also an inspiration, his art is so unique and I think one day he could be up there with the best. I love all his work and I am extremely pleased with what he has created for Memory Programme, it captures the mood of the album perfectly.

Format: Digital.

Recorded / Mixed: Greg Veryard - ReturnCodeZero

Mastered: George Atkins at 80 Hertz with Greg Veryard

Buy link, here.

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