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Whispers of the Plains: Adam Fielding

Last week we introduced you to Adam Fielding, this week we got to talk to the excellent musician. Hold tight, it’s one of the best in-depth interviews we’ve had the chance to do!
What initially brought you to music production and what influences your music?

I originally started writing music using computers back in 1995, when my brother picked up a copy of Protracker for the Atari STe. I was much more heavily into dabbling with programming and, being a young lad at the time, making terrible little videogames. I originally started writing music so I’d have something to include in said videogames, but over the course of about four years realised that I was enjoying writing music far more than programming games. When I eventually migrated to using PCs back in 1997/98 I continued using trackers and getting involved in various tracker communities while absorbing as much information as I possibly could. Someone recommended that I check out Propellerhead’s Reason software in 2001 – I checked out the demo, saved my pennies and picked it up about a year later… I still remember the first time I saw the rack interface and pressed the TAB key and I just knew that I had to have it!

Given my game-related background in writing music, I guess it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that my earliest influences were primarily videogame-related, and as I got more heavily involved in the tracker scene I loved listening to and learning from musicians such as Necros, Teque, Hunz and Nitro. I learned an awful lot from so many different tracker musicians as the format itself allowed musicians to completely dissect each other’s creations (both in terms of composition and production), much like the sharing of RPS files in Reason allows for today.

In my teen years I listened to a wide range of guitar-based and heavier electronic music, and it took me a surprisingly long time to properly start exploring a broader range of music. Boards of Canada stand out as a good example of an electronic act who really made me sit up and realise that electronic music could be unique sounding, atmospheric and – perhaps most importantly – emotive, and that I wanted to write music that, while being stylistically quite different, could resonate with people in a similar manner. In the following years I got more into ambient music, breaks and synthpop and I’ve just run with it from there.

Doing absolutely everything yourself, with your own equipment and home studio. Was it daunting setting up shop or did you relish the challenge?

That raises an interesting point… I suppose I could argue that my home studio has been “in development” for the past five years, really! Being a student at university, I was never tied down to one location for very long so I ended up living in a constant state of flux – there’s no point in getting a studio sorted or getting a room treated if you’re going to be moving out after a year, really. Consequently, I’ve ended up working in a variety of spaces – thankfully, while I was a student I did have access to some nice recording studios at university and, perhaps more importantly, most of my music relied more heavily on software synthesis than recorded material anyway. I’ve got a couple of microphones which I bust out for recording vocals, guitars and pretty much anything else that takes my fancy… but I’m still working primarily with software, which has been an absolute financial lifesaver for me.

In terms of actually setting up shop, I finished university in 2009 and knew that one day I wanted to be able to do something related to music production for a living while, hopefully, having enough time to work on my own artistic output… of course, if I could work on my own music for a living then that would be nice, too! That was a daunting goal for me, but I’ve been focussing primarily on music publishing/licensing, commissioned work and sound design which has worked out nicely so far. I’ve got my fingers in a few different pies at the moment and recently received some incredibly exciting news regarding my own musical output, so I’m incredibly excited to find out what the future may bring.
What advice could you give anyone whom wants to go solo and create a home studio for themselves?

To be honest, I’m still sorting everything out myself so I’m not entirely sure how useful my advice is going to be. But… here goes!

From a practical standpoint: don’t spend a load of money on equipment you don’t need! I still believe that it’s the person in the chair that has the biggest impact on the overall sound of a project, and that’s what most people will be interested in. Of course, you’re going to have to spend a bit of money getting set up… but be prepared to do a hefty amount of research before you get stuck in. This isn’t something that’s going to take off overnight, so be prepared to put in a lot of time and effort getting things sorted out. As boring as it sounds, you need to keep on top of your personal admin – otherwise, one day, you’re going to end up in a lot of trouble.

Getting into any form of musical work is an incredibly daunting prospect. If you just want to write music for a living and absolutely nothing else will satisfy you then, hey, good luck. You’re going to need it! If you want to be a bit more realistic, then you need to get involved in as many projects as possible – regardless of whether they pay well or not (if they pay at all!). Get your name out there and, provided you do a good job, people will take notice. If you’re set on writing your own music, check out the many music licensing agencies out there and be prepared to accept that you’re going to need to make artistic compromises down the line – save your ego and artistic sensibilities for your own personal projects. There are plenty of non-exclusive agencies that can get your music to people who need it. Work with as many people as you can and make the most of your contacts.

“Lightfields” is your second full album release. Did you have any particular concepts in mind for the album or did it just all come freeflow?

A bit of both, really. Much like my first album “Distant Activity”, there are recurring themes and concepts running throughout, but it was only when I had completed the title track that I had a clearer idea of the sort of themes and sounds I wanted to explore. The exact same thing happened with Distant Activity.

My first album was primarily about finding a sense of beauty in both the moments we share with loved ones and moments of loneliness/isolation, and ultimately finding some sort of redemption in the darkest places. It’s quite a contemplative record in that respect. Lightfields runs with this idea and builds upon the idea of embracing this beauty/darkness and living for the now. As a result, it’s a far more intense record in places as it’s more about confrontation than detachment, acting on these moments and concepts rather than reflecting upon them. Personally, I think it makes for a far more emotional listen while retaining a sense of continuity with Distant Activity – one thing I certainly didn’t want to do was to write “Distant Activity Part 2” as I personally feel that there is nothing to gain from covering the same ground over and over again. As a result, there was more of a focus on live instrumentation and extreme audio manipulation this time around, resulting in an interesting contrast between imperfection and clinical production.

Having said that, despite these ideas and concepts I like to leave a lot of the interpretation up to the listener – while most of my tracks have a very definite message, it’s up to the listener to decide how to interpret it. Some of them are obvious and somewhat straight-forward, some are less obvious.

Were their any challenges with “Lightfields” or things that you are really pleased with that when you listen back you think “yeah, that’s the bit!”

Haha, the whole thing was a challenge! I can’t really say I could pick out a favourite track or a favourite moment, but there were plenty of challenges and elements I’m incredibly happy with.

It was only after I decided to start working on a second album that I remembered just how much work and effort would go into writing something I’d be proud to release – anyone can stick ten unrelated songs together, bung them in a compilation with some nature photography as artwork and call it an album. Retaining some semblance of continuity without having every song sound exactly the same is incredibly tricky, and requires a certain degree of planning to pull off successfully. I set myself a few ground rules to start with – more guitars, more focussed vocals, no orchestral parts – and that certainly paid off… though I’m really looking forward to busting out the strings again! The sense of having a central narrative behind an eclectic assortment of genres is tough to pull off, and I’m incredibly happy with how it turned out. I’m more surprised with how it turned out in terms of emotional narrative – it’s not unrelentingly depressing or sickeningly twee.

Although the record builds on familiar themes and ideas from my first album, I honestly thought that most people who liked Distant Activity would hate it. Still, rather than trying to steer it toward more familiar territory, I decided to run with it and see where it would take me. Whereas with Distant Activity I had years of songs and ideas from which to build on, with Lightfields I had very little and that itself was quite a challenge. I was still convinced that it would alienate a lot of long-time listeners but the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive. I have no idea which direction I’ll be going next, but I’m glad I explored this one.
You also take part in lots of colloborations and remixes. What makes doing those different and interesting for you as an artist?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m generally pretty terrible when it comes to collaborating on the actual songwriting process – I find it hard to make my ideas gel with others, and I like to be able to steer things my way. This is one reason why I like working on remixes – you already have all of the parts needed to get started, and you have complete creative control over the final remix. In a sense it’s like the perfect collaboration – someone’s already given you their ideas in the form of an original track, and it’s up to you to make changes as you see fit. How extreme those changes are is entirely at the discretion of the remixer… personally speaking, I tend to completely overhaul a track if I’m involved in remixing it. I just find it more fun that way – I’m not a big fan of remixes in which the remixer simply strips out the drums and sticks in a 4/4 beat. Where’s the fun in that? I’ve been working on a few remixes as of late as I just came off the back of releasing Lightfields, so remixing presents me with a nice opportunity to keep writing semi-original music without completely burning myself out.

Vocal collaborations are another kettle of fish. I have to really enjoy the track as-it-is before I get started on a vocal collaboration, and then it’s a case of trying to come up with a vocal line that’ll do the original song justice. It’s a tough process, but when a vocal collaboration turns out well it’s just incredibly satisfying. Normally this involves listening to the original track hundreds of times until I come up with a satisfactory idea, which I’ll then spend far too long recording and changing until I end up with something I’m particularly happy with. A problem I have with both remixes and vocal collaborations is that I tend to come up with more than one idea before I get it completely right, which can be a bit time consuming. With original songs, I tend to know straight away now if an idea is worth developing or not… which is certainly something I was lacking when I first started out!

What’s next for Adam Fielding and where can we find you for more information?

Well, I’m going to continue focussing on music licensing and sound design, and in terms of personal musical output I’ve had some absolutely incredible label/distribution-related news come my way in the past couple of weeks.

You can keep in touch with me and listen via my website at http://www.adamfielding.com

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