|WIN WIN’S CRUCIAL GEAR
SoundToys Plug Ins
One may say that producers are like the chefs of the creative process (the studio being their kitchen), so it’s hard to conceive how a band like NYC’s WIN WIN – comprised of three electronic producers – can actually function without major and recurrent conflicts of ego. The secret is probably – as with most successful musical project involving more than one person – in the trust and bond built during a collaboration that’s now more than a decade long. WIN WIN’s music is as edgy as you would expect, which gives us the opportunity for a very interesting Q&A about gear and the creative process.
It sounds like all of you have producers skills – are there too many cooks in the kitchen, or is it a win win situation?
Alex Epton (xxxchange): so far we’re pretty good at delegating. If there’s a conflict I’ll always defer to whoever wrote the song for the final word on production, but generally the production stuff all three of us agree on is the stuff that tends to be the best.
How does the chemistry in the band work, do you guys specialize in different things or do you wear different hats depending on the song?
AE: I generally mix, although Ryan has started mixing some of the tracks too. Other than that we all write and produce songs and then bring them in. For this album we wrote together less and brought stuff in to the group for production after the songs were more fully formed. Chris and i work on lyrics for our songs together and Ryan tends to bring in stuff with lyrics more or less done. Ryan specializes in visuals, but we all contribute to the visual part too.
Electronic music opens so many sonic possibilities that some musicians find it hard to know when a sound is “the best it can be.” how do you refrain from constantly trying new options for the various sounds in your arrangements?
AE: all those possibilities are just annoying to me. I mean i like having some options but there’s so much crap to sort through in your typical DAW environment, especially when you start adding plug ins. I’m always refining the tools i work with, like i feel like i have a palette at any given time, of sounds that i go for, techniques, etc… I like exploring new stuff every once in a while but it’s definitely good to separate that from the creative process, or trying to actually get a mix done or whatever. Finishing stuff and getting it out into the world is way more important than making the perfect _____ . If i was waiting for that i probably wouldn’t have put anything out yet in my whole life.
What’s been inspiring the band lately? “…it’s good to get out of the mindset of making everything rigid and perfect”
“…it’s good to get out of the mindset of making everything rigid and perfect”
AE: I’m inspired by movies, been watching tons of movies with the sound off in the studio lately while I’m working so i have something else to look at besides little boxes scrolling past in Logic. It just opens up my whole imagination to make things more extreme, more brutal, more beautiful. If your heads in the DAWall the time the tendency it to make stuff super perfect and on the grid or whatever and mix it perfectly. But like all my favorite records are fucked up in some way like the guitar’s out of tune or the mix sucks and is muddy or it sounds like shit, so it’s good to get out of the mindset of making everything rigid and perfect. That’s the computer controlling you, not the other way around.
Ryan Sciaino (Ghostdad): visually – the internet. I pretty easily fall down the rabbit hole researching stuff online. Lately it’s 3d modeling, capturing, and the unity game engine and all the rad art that’s being made with that stuff. I get to travel a lot doing the visuals thing but the far away trips are pretty quick so maybe the most basic and ephemeral things are what i remember from other countries. Big public spaces or street signs or corner stores.
Is inspiration some kind of random blessing, or is it possible to set it in motion?
AE: It’s good to just go in everyday and do something even if it’s crap. Keep in mind that nobody is ever gonna hear like 80% of the shitty ideas that you do. You just gotta start somewhere, sometimes it morphs into something else that’s actually interesting, most of the time not, but if you love doing it that shouldn’t be a problem
Tell us about the process of the one song from your repertoire that came together in the most surprising way.
RS: “Holly Body” [not available for streaming at this time] has a cool story. I was on a plane drinking coffee which is sort of my ritual if i know i have to be awake setting up a show for the rest of the day. The melody and lyrics sort of popped in my head while listening to some other demos. I didn’t want to forget it so i recorded it really fast on my phone in the bathroom. By the time i got home from that tour Alex and Chris had flipped it into a totally new instrumental. That’s not uncommon for us i guess but that one in particular was so different from what i had in mind initially it was really exciting to hear for the first time.MUSICAL TOYS
What is your DAW of choice and why do you prefer it to others?
AE: Logic, I’ve been in it since version 4 it does some things pretty well. Mostly I’m just fast in there. It got way better to mix in since version X. I’ve been doing lots of collaborations with people who use Ableton though and I’m liking it more and more. It has a cool sound and writing and manipulating samples with it… it’s very “plastic.”
RS: Logic. Alex got me on there a while ago. Generally i like to see the whole timeline laid out at once. Also the built in plug ins are great, compression especially.
What inspires you the most sonically? Pads? Samples? Loops?
AE: I’ve been getting super into gritty sounds over the last couple of years, i don’t care if its an old broken keyboard or a drum kit you recorded with one mic through a harmonizer… just something that’s not a bland ol’ apple loop or whatever….. stuff with character. Also it’s a great way to create contrast if you have something that’s really old and ratty sounding up against some sparkly digital stuff… it just gives the production an extra surreal dimension. I’ve been super inspired by guitar lately too because up until recently i only wrote stuff on keyboards or in the DAW. When I pick up a guitar I never know what’s gonna come out. It can make super simple chord progressions sound cool too, which is harder to do on a keyboard
RS: anything I wrote for this record started on guitar i think. I got a few decent electric guitars around the time we were making our last record so I’ve been able to play every day when I’m home. I put them through pedals and a looper sometimes to generate ideas.
What are the plug ins and “in the box” tools you abuse of?
AE: SoundToys‘ stuff is good. Lots of nice distortions there. Also virtual synths: Tal-Noisemaker and Reaktor. That and Aalto, those are mainstays for ITB [inside the box]. You can do just about anything with Reaktor and a fast enough computer.What real synths do you use in your music and why do you love them?
AE: an [Oberheim] OBX I bought from our friend Yoichi, and my ARP 2600. The OBX is an analog poly without the hassle, it tunes itself and has midi and all the amenities, plus its stereo. The ARP is good for a million things: it’s a great lead / bass synth but also it’s great for processing sounds or playing guitar through. Even the reverb is great. I’m working out a system to make it polyphonic with three voices.
RS: in the computer the Korg M1 is my fave for gritty 80’s sample sounds. I have an old DSS-1 at home and about 200 disks i just pop in at random to try and find cool sounds. The M1 is sort of serves the same purpose but as a plugin is way quicker.
What are your favorite guitar pedals?
RS: yeah the MiniFooger Drive sounds really good. My Boss DD-3 delay has stuck with me for a while. I like it for the choppy sample and hold function rather than as a delay. We use some of those sounds on the record.
Would you be into sharing you secret to get a cool radio sound on the vocals?
AE: usually we just record with a shitty mic! None of us sound great on a nice full sounding condenser mic so we usually bust out the old / shitty / broken dynamics for vocals. I’m a microphone freak, probably above any other piece of gear, synths, pedals whatever… I love microphones! I have a ton of old weird dynamics and obscure stuff to get cool lo-fi sounds. Also we did a bunch of vocals through the TC [Helicon] Voicelive on this album but that was more like a harmonizer kind of effect.
Are there any pieces of gear or musical toys that lately made you rediscover the playful side of creating?
AE: it’s always good to keep switching out instruments and gear and stuff, to keep it creative. The only thing that’s constant is Logic. Everything else I’ll buy and sell, use it for a little while and then move on. There’s a cool exploratory phase with a new instrument or synth that’s like “Oooh! Never heard that before!” and it might inspire an idea or something. There are very few things I’ve hung on to. The ARP, the Oberheim are mainstays but everything else rotates in and out. Soft synths are cool because they don’t take up so much space in your house, the downside is you cant re-sell ’em on ebay!
RS: i have been jamming on my iPad a lot. Whenever I get the itch for new gear an iPad app can calm that for while, and there are some really interesting apps that take advantage of the touch environment in a weird way and are really fun to play around in. Also, it’s easy to bust out on the plane!
RECORDING SET UP AND MIXING
What do you find to be the most challenging aspects of the recording process? On the flipside, what aspects are the most rewarding? “…it’s always good to keep switching out instruments and gear and stuff, to keep it creative. The only thing that’s constant is Logic. Everything else I’ll buy and sell, use it for a little while and then move on.”
“…it’s always good to keep switching out instruments and gear and stuff, to keep it creative. The only thing that’s constant is Logic. Everything else I’ll buy and sell, use it for a little while and then move on.”
AE: working in a small room is tough. It’s nice to just leave everything set up and plugged in for convenience. But in a smaller space you’re constantly setting up and tearing stuff down or it becomes un-liveable. Doing drums is a total nightmare… I am happy though, that I finally figured out how to get a decent drum sound in my shitty little room.
Many recording musicians find mixing extremely frustrating, what’s your approach to it and do you rely on a “fresh set of ears” (i.e. external mixing engineer) or not?
AE: mostly we’re mixing everything ourselves. I’ve had stuff mixed in the past by world class mixers, like Phillip Zdar and Tom Elmhirst but obviously not every project is going to have budget for those guys. So I’ve learned to manage it myself over the years, and putting in the time and effort to try and really get good has been rewarding. Now I’m starting to do some stuff for other people and it’s super fun to be the fresh ears! We check on a bunch of different sets of speakers which helps a lot. Also we try and get a really good mastering job when possible. Heba Kadry at Timeless mastered our new album “primaries,” she did an awesome job.
What one piece of hardware/software would you most like to add to your recording setup?
AE: a bigger room with proper air conditioning!
THE LIVE SHOW
It’s often challenging to translate programmed music to a live setting, what’s your approach to it?
AE: that’s a tough one! We’re still trying to work out the best way to do it. We did some shows in support of the last album opening for New Order and those ones, we did with an all live band, rotating our friends Roofeeo and Andy Chugg on drums. I’d like to do more of that in the future, it’s way more fun than playing samplers or laptops etc.. on stage.
Do you consider the live show as a faithful translation of your recorded material or simply an opportunity to let your songs free to follow new directions?
RS: for our last record we played our songs pretty much as is. Sometimes i have to go back and relearn guitar parts or solos that got chopped up into something new but i can usually get them under my fingers. We might come up with new intros or transitions between songs, that’s an area where we can have some fun.What pieces of equipment do you find particularly useful on stage? (please mention the brand and model name and say why you like it) AE: on our last little run of shows i was using the Arturia Minibrute and that was pretty fun to play onstage. Way better than their virtual synths in my opinion… I wish they’d make a poly! Also all those vocal warping pedals that you can get now are really fun, we have a couple different ones, the old TC VoiceLive, but it just died, and Ryan has a red Roland one (Boss VE-20). It’s hard to get enough reverb on the vocals without it feeding back and those pedals give you way more control over the vocal sound.