I interviewed Erik Martin of the Internet Death Metal band Critical Dismemberment, of which you are also a member. While I received a great deal of insight from him about the band, I also wanted to hear about your involvement.
Erik and I actually met on Instagram several years ago. I used to have a solo project called Elizabeth’s Honor, and Erik used to follow my page. One day, we decided to collaborate on a song, and we stayed in contact after that. Eventually I asked him if he was interested in starting a new band with me. He was more than down to do that, so we started Critical Dismemberment. Erik came up with the name. As of right now, I have written all the music for CD, but we're trying to get Erik more involved in the music writing. Typically, I'll send him something that I have written, then he'll come up with a song title, the lyrics, and record vocals. Then he sends me his vocal tracks for mixing. So far, it's worked out great. We haven't made a new song in quite a while now because we've both been busy. Since starting this band, we've both had kids. Both of us had kids already too, so it's safe to say that we've got our hands full most of the time. It seems like we both have something going on all of the time and our schedules conflict with each other a lot, so we both have solo projects as well to keep us busy in between working on CD songs. His solo project is Erik Dismembered, which is a unique project blending ambient electronic sounds with metal influences. My solo project is called She Wants The D-Pad and I just recently released my first finished track. While I'm talking about SWTDP, I would like to point out that I have nothing but the utmost respect for women. Recently, it was brought to my attention that people think I'm an asshole because of that name. SWTDP is definitely a reference to that massively over used sexual innuendo, but more than anything, it's a gentle nod towards internet humor. That whole project is supposed to be humorous. I'm not saying that "she wants the d" is a funny joke, but it's very common around the Internet. When I came up with that name, I quite literally meant "she wants the d-pad" as in she wants you to give her the controller because you've been sitting on your ass playing Super Smash Bros. for three hours now and it is her turn to play. My wife and I love playing video games together. That's what inspired the name.
Being that you and Erik handle all songwriting via the internet and it seems to work, do you think CD will open doors for other “internet bands” to become active?
I wish I could say that we were the first, haha. We've been doing this for about two years now, but I know guys that have been doing this for nearly a decade. Some Internet bands are actually doing very well. Infant Annihilator for example. They're also a two piece Internet band. I can definitely see this becoming more common around the Internet. Especially with some of these powerful virtual instruments out there now. To be honest, I see it as a problem. It is now possible to make genres like metal entirely on a computer. I was talking to a guy one day about guitar tones. I heard one of his songs, and the guitars were so clean compared to some of my own recordings at the time. When I asked him about his recording process, he told me that he doesn't even play guitar. It's all sample based virtual instruments and they sound shockingly real. Now, we're starting to see a lot of solo metal projects made by kids on laptops with no real instruments at all. This may seem like news to some people, but I know a lot of guys that do this. Some of them will have a new release every week. That's how the cybergrind scene got started in the early 2000's. I won't be surprised at all if we start seeing people carrying laptops to venues, hooking into the PA, and playing "shows." And yes, I am a part of the problem. Believe me, if I could find four more bandmates for us, we would be trying to play shows. Unfortunately, I live in Branson, Missouri, where finding bandmates that play metal (or even a new friend that listens to metal) is as common as finding a cave full of unicorns. So instead of giving up, I started programming drums and synth, then recording guitar and bass. On the other hand, it's really cool that these guys have a chance to make music even if they can't play an instrument. Some people are fantastic composers, but they may lack the skills or funds to record their ideas. It also opens up new ways to work with other musicians. My friends and I put together comp albums every now and then, where we all write a song based on whatever theme we choose. Rather than having a few musicians working together to make a song in a couple of days, we have several musicians working together to make a whole album in a couple of weeks. Very few of us have ever met in person. We just know each other online.
I remember back in the 90s the big deal was using a drum machine if you couldn’t find a drummer to work with. There were some bands who were able to pull this off live, as well as projects like Controlled Bleeding that exclusively involved programming equipment. I guess today there is a fine line between bands working with this kind of equipment for the convenience or having insufficient funds and bands losing their organic edge by using it.
Yea I really have a love/hate relationship with programming. If I had the money, and the space to do it, I would love to buy a drum kit and learn to play, then do away with programming altogether. I've been playing guitar for around ten years now and I've been in bands with drummers. My first band ever was in high school. We called ourselves "By Special Request." We practiced every day after school and played a few shows, but man, being in a band is a lot like having a nagging girlfriend times (insert number of bandmates). Being in a solo project is drama free. Still, it was worth it. The excitement that I felt back then has never left me. After high school everybody moved away and I was never able to find bandmates again. So after about five years, I just decided to do it myself. I know guys that make metal with nothing but midi tracks. Even the guitars are fake. Some of them do it that way because they like it, and some of them do it because they don't have a better option. I program because I don't have a better option for the time being. Using fake drums makes me feel bad but I try to make it obvious that they're not real. I feel like I don't deserve the same attention that some of these other guys get. Bands like Markradonn with over ten members, all playing instruments. It just doesn't seem fair that I would have the same chance as them, when their music takes so much more effort to produce. I don't feel bad about programming synths at all though, especially 8bit. That stuff has always been programmed anyway. I've literally had people talk about my music and refer to my project as "you guys" or whatever as if it were an actual band. One girl was complimenting the drums one day, even though I purposely made them blistering fast with the same velocity on each hit, to make them sound computerized. I didn't like the fact that she thought it was a human performance. It's scary, how people can use nothing but a laptop to produce music that sounds like a professionally recorded song in a studio by a full band. It's a blessing and a curse really. Most of my friends that do this, consider themselves composers. I can imagine someone standing at a podium in a mosh pit, conducting the band on stage. Though this wouldn't make sense at all, it's still how I imagine it. I think it's wonderful that these guys can put out their ideas even though they can't play instruments or find bandmates. At the same time, I'm afraid that people will stop caring about whether or not someone can actually play an instrument. It doesn't seem fair to the people who have dedicated half of their lives to mastering their instruments. This is a controversial topic.
Musicians are lucky to retain the excitement of playing in a band from the beginning. To have it is as important as the ability to play an instrument. What helped you keep that attitude through your recording career?
I think that has a lot to do with who I am. I like to push myself and see myself progress. Trying my best to make sure that every song I finish is better than the one before it, keeps everything feeling fresh. Finishing a song that you're really proud of is a great feeling. It's just a lot of fun to me. I'd be lying if I said that I've never grown bored making music. It's not uncommon for me to go a month or two without touching an instrument. Then when I decide to get busy again, everything feels fresh and exciting again. Taking breaks is as important to me as practicing.
What sort of a solo project was Elizabeth’s Honor? What interested Erik in that project and made him want to work with you when you asked him?
EH was very similar to Critical Dismemberment. As a matter of fact, four of the songs from our EP were songs that I wrote while I was working on EH. I just deleted my old vocal tracks and sent the music to Erik. When I started EH, I had been playing guitar for about eight years or so. I never really had a plan in mind, I just wanted to play guitar in a band. For several years, I searched for dedicated bandmates without any luck. One day I had this "grand" idea to be the first guy ever to program drums on the computer, then record rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass guitar, and vocals in a "one man band project." I seriously thought I was the first person to have that idea. Now, I know at least twenty other artists that do the same thing. Some of them are actually good friends of mine, and killer musicians. Shotgun Guy, Unicorn Hole, Morbidly A Beast, Chasing Chain Chomps, Pillars Of Sarnarth, Oaks Parcel, poopmaster, Are You Afraid Of The Dog... I could go on forever talking about those guys. We all have similar ideas. So anyway, I started EH after having my "grand vision" of being this one man metal band. An old friend of mine actually came up with the name after I asked him for suggestions. The whole idea was to make the coolest guitar riffs that I could possibly come up with, and record them. Nothing else mattered to me. Occasionally, I would add some background synth, and I always recorded vocals, but only because I thought that nobody would want to hear instrumentals. I hate doing vocals, but good, strong vocals are one of my favorite things about metal. That's where Erik comes in. I'm not really sure if Erik actually liked my first project, but we both had similar goals and interests in music, so we kind of hit it off right away. I showed him a song that I had written and he immediately started writing lyrics. That song became "7th Trumpet" eventually. I guess Erik had already been introduced to Otto and Haniel, so he got our first song on the Operation Underground comp that Otto put together. That's how we ended up working with Bluntface. After that, I started sending more old songs to Erik, and eventually we had an EP.
How supportive has Otto and Bluntface Records been supportive of Critical Dismemberment since you started corresponding with him? Has your exposure on the Operation: Underground compilation gotten you new listeners?
I don't even know the right words to say, to express how grateful I am of being on Bluntface. Otto showed me things that I never knew existed. Everyone knows that there is an ocean full of underground bands out there but I had no idea that there were also underground labels, zines, and radio stations. If that comp had never happened, this interview would have never happened. Erik knew Otto and Haniel before we even started Critical Dismemberment. Erik told me about Operation: Underground before we even finished our first song. He got it hooked up so that we were on there. There were 27 bands on that comp I believe. I can't remember for sure but there were a lot. Otto had the comp reviewed by several different people, and it was streamed on tons of Internet radio shows. I remember hearing an interview that Otto did. He named a few bands in his interview, and out of every band on that comp, we were one of the bands that he named in his interview. When he mentioned us, he told them that we were a two piece death metal band from Arkansas with programmed drums. He said he loved the way we put blast beats in our songs that were so fast, there was no way a human could play them. I loved that. He perfectly summed up our band in that interview in a way that made us sound interesting. All of this happened just a couple of weeks after we finished our first song, so we immediately gained a few fans. We really didn't have any listeners at all until that comp released. It was an amazing experience really. After that, we just kept in contact and eventually ended up on BFR.
What labels, zines and radio stations did you discover through Bluntface?
Metal Devastation Radio, Whatever68radio, Xtreme 365 Radio, Metal Nation Radio, 365 Radio, Ringmaster Reviews, Blackened Horde Zine/Radio, and of course AEA. I know there are more but it's hard for me to keep up with all of them. Metal Devastation Radio has been the most supportive of my music. Zach always plays my newest music when it comes out and he always acts like he's impressed. He's such a fun guy to work with. His shows on Friday nights are hilarious. There's always something interesting going on at MDR. Erik usually handles all of the promotion for the CD. I'm just not good at that. I would be the worst band manager on earth if it were my job. I'm so thankful to have guys like Erik, Otto, Haniel, and Zack to help me promote. If it weren't for them, nobody would ever hear my music. Whatever68radio has been a good one too. Lisa from Whatever68radio gave me a live interview once. She streamed a compilation album for me once also. Something that I and ten other guys put together. She did a live interview for that show as well, but it was one of the other artists on the comp. A guy named Travis Valois. Travis runs a blog for Nintendocore artists. Check that out sometime at nintendocorelives.blogspot.com. He put together a compilation album with a Mega Man theme awhile back and that's the one that got streamed on Whatever68radio. Critical Dismemberment had a song on that comp, but since then I've decided to separate CD from my metal video game 8bit music. That's what started SWTDP. We're currently working on the second comp album for Nintendocorelives with a misunderstood villains theme. It's been a lot of fun.
What goes on at Zach’s Friday night broadcasts? How did that live interview with Lisa go on her program?
There are different shows playing all week long at MDR but Zach's shows are great. That dude really knows what metal is. Zach IS metal. Sometimes I'll pick up a six pack on my way home from work on Friday nights and hop on MDR to see what he has to say. Zach is the kind of guy that will say exactly what he wants to regardless of what others think and I love that about him. If you're the type of person that gets offended by profanity then it's not the show for you. I was on there one night listening to him rant about Kim Davis, and some band that pissed him off. It was hilarious. I'm not that kind of guy that takes anything too seriously and I love comedy. Even in music, I find myself listening to a lot of songs that were only made to be funny. Anyway, Zach is hilarious to me and he plays some good music. Not to sound all depressing or anything, but I don't have friends in real life. Logging onto MDR makes me feel like I'm hanging out with other metal heads. I'll buy some beer, hop on MDR to hear Zach's show, and talk to everyone in the chat room while we listen to some killer music. To me, it feels like I'm sharing a drink with friends. I don't get on there as much as I'd like to, but only because of family life. My wife and I only get about an hour a night to ourselves after the kids are in bed. My wife listened to Zach's show with me once and she loved it. In my opinion, Zach has something very special going on at MDR. He's a huge supporter of underground bands. The man doesn't even get paid but he still works hard to expand MDR. I'm sure I could say the same thing about you too. I look up to Zach for sure... About that interview with Lisa, that went well. I've had an interview with Zach too but it was pre-recorded. The interview I did with Lisa was actually live on air. Back then, we had just released our material and she streamed it for us. Otto got that set up for me. The interview was similar to this one. She just asked me about how Critical D operates and what our plans for the future were. Definitely check her shows out sometime. The Punk Rocker Princess on Whatever68radio. She streamed the Mega Man comp for us when it released and Travis had a live interview with her. That comp release ended up being much bigger than any of us thought it would. I guess that's what happens when eleven different people work on one album and all help to promote it. I don't know all of the numbers, but I think it was downloaded a few hundred times. The next comp is almost finished and should be released within the next few weeks. I'm already working to promote that. Zach is supposed to be playing it on his Friday night show when it releases if everything goes according to plan. I'm trying to get some reviews set up for it as well.
While one-man projects may not be anything new, anyone who handles all the instruments and composing in addition to songwriting deserves credit for being able to do so. Have you received props for this?
Some people seemed to be impressed, but if they knew what my writing process was like, I don't think they would be impressed at all. My drum programming is so simple. It's basically just a bunch of loops copied and pasted everywhere. My synths usually play the same notes that I'm playing on guitar, so it's really not overly complicated. All that's left is recording guitar and bass. I try to make it obvious that my drums are sampled. The last thing I want is for someone to think "whoever this is, can play drums well" when there's nobody playing drums at all.
How do Erik’s lyrics and vocals fit the music you compose for CD? What mixing equipment do you use to bring out the potential of your songs?
Erik has a wicked style. I was aiming for something heavier than my old material when we started Critical D. Even though most of our songs on the EP were actually old songs of mine. Honesty, we kind of rushed that EP. Shortly after forming the band, I went through some major life changing events and suddenly, I didn't have time to work on music. Though we have released a few singles since then that are more on par with what we're aiming for. Erik really knows how to create some dark and heavy vibes. The first song we ever made together as Critical D, was based on a recurring nightmare that he used to have. It has a crazy "the world is ending and there are no survivors" kind of vibe which is perfect in my opinion. That pretty much sums up the kind of band I always wanted to have... For my gear, I do all of the mixing in Ableton Live 9. That's usually the last choice for metal artists, but I know how to use it better than any other DAW I've tried. Mixing is still kind of new to me honestly. Our first EP wasn't mixed at all. I didn't even know what mixing really was. Most of our songs were all in mono (except for the drums which were automatically panned in EZ drummer), there was no EQ whatsoever. Then I heard the first song Skin Drone ever released with Erik and I was pretty blown away with the quality. I immediately became obsessed with mixing. I mean, it totally consumed me. Shortly after that, I started contacting engineers, buying books, reading articles, watching tutorials online, anything I could possibly think of to educate myself. Eventually I was introduced to several engineers who now mentor me so to speak. I'm currently trying to invest in as many plug-ins as I can to get better results. As of now, I only use the native effects that come with Live 9 standard. I'd love to get into analog someday but that's a very expensive thing to get into. Our song "Paperboy" was the first song we made that I actually mixed. You can listen to our EP, then listen to that single, and it doesn't even sound like the same band. I guess Otto liked what I was doing, so he asked me to mix the Skin Drone album. It's been a great experience. Audio is a never ending journey. I learn something new every single day, and I'm always hungry for more. We've progressed a lot musically, and especially with production but I still don't know 5% of what I'd like to know. If we were serious about trying to make it big, and sell albums, then I'd be hiring a professional to mix and master everything we do, but until then, I'll just keep studying, practicing, and mixing our songs. I've sent some of our songs to his guys who mix professionally, and they'll absolutely tear it apart. Telling me everything that's wrong with it, even though I thought it was a good mix. So I'm no pro by any means. I would never claim to be a pro, but it's very obvious that things have changed. The music shows it.
How much did you search for equipment before settling on Ableton Live 9 and EZ Drummer? Why did you finally settle on those programs to work with?
I've been experimenting with other DAWs and virtual instruments for a long time. I started on Fruity Loops with Steven Slate drum sample libraries. Then I switched from windows to Mac, and Fruity Loops doesn't work on Mac. I had briefly tried Pro Tools before and wasn't happy with it. Ableton, Fruity Loops, and Pro Tools were the only DAWs I had ever heard of, so I bought Ableton. I took a risk at buying the full version of Ableton before trying it. I'm glad that I did though. It's a very powerful DAW with multiple uses. Originally it was designed for DJ's that play live shows, but it can do so much more than that. With EZ drummer, I just decided to buy it because my friends recommended it. Its name serves it well. It's as easy as it gets. EZD is sample based too, so the drums sound really good. I'm constantly upgrading gear. Always looking for new tools. I like to have options.
With all the programs you use, in what ways does Elizabeth’s Honor differ from your other bands?
The main thing is that Elizabeth’s Honor is painfully embarrassing to me now, and I'm not so ashamed of my other projects. I started EH the same week that I got my copy of Ableton and I really rushed through everything. My guitar writing style hasn't changed all that much, but I've learned a lot about arranging tracks and how to not sound so repetitive. My first songs were way too repetitive. I would loop everything way longer than it needed to be. Songs that should have been two minutes long ended up being five minutes. There was no bass at all in those songs either. Back then my guitar playing was a little happier sounding. My riffs were always either major or natural minor scales. Somewhere along the way, I started getting interested in tech death and learning to write like that. Now I use a lot of diminished and harmonic minor scales. I've learned that patience is key. For me, it's better to spend several weeks working on a song and being satisfied with it, than to rush through a song in a few days and settling for an "OK" product.
Do you take steps to make all or most of the instruments appearing on your recordings sound like traditional instruments? What sort of sounds can you get out of EZ Drummer?
Well the guitars and bass are real but the rest is fake, so I think it mostly sounds traditional. EZ Drummer is a virtual instrument that uses real samples of drums that were recorded in a studio, so they sound legit. It even has a "humanize" feature that randomly changes the velocity and time of each hit to make it sound real but I always turn that off. I've got around 30 different kicks and about 20 snare samples in EZ drummer so I have a few options. Honestly, I really like all of the options. I almost always use different kicks and snares in every song. Most real bands wouldn't have that many tonal options for drums. With synth, it's hard to make them sound any other way. They're digital instruments anyway. The only difference really is that some people use huge analog synths to make the sounds but they still play the notes on piano keys. Programming them in a DAW means that the notes are triggered at exact times so there isn't any human error. It's been proven that we prefer human performance over programmed performances (I hope that never changes), but I think synth work sounds best when programmed. Some analog synths use sequencers instead of keys, so those don't have human error either. They still sound natural even when they're programmed. So basically, my guitars and bass are real, but the rest is fake. While synth usually sounds fine being programmed, drums sometimes don't, and that's why I try to make them sound as fake as I can, while still having a good tone. I don't plan on using anymore synth in Critical Dismemberment. That wasn't a part of the original idea anyway. She Wants The D-Pad on the other hand, relies more on synth than anything else. I like to think of SWTDP as a video game murder music project. Video games have always been and always will be a big part of my life and I love to write songs about my favorite game characters. I'll probably never have any electronic dance music sounding synths in my songs, but I use tons of 8bit synth. I really can't think of a better electronic sound than 8bit, for metal music. The sound waves are harsh, and can be played very fast without getting sloppy. It's perfect for fast drums and tremolo picking guitars. One of the heaviest songs I've ever written in my opinion, doesn't even have a lot of guitar in it. It's almost completely 8bit.
Which lyrics penned by Erik have resonated with you the most since you and he began collaborating together? What speaks to you about any particular line or verse?
That's a hard question to answer really. There are several lines that stick with me. The first that comes to mind is in the remake of "Feel My Wrath And Tremble." For the remake, he added a line saying "black out the sun, feel my wrath and tremble." That just sounds so badass to me. When I started that song, I was picturing a big battle similar to the one at the end of Braveheart. Just a bunch of dudes running towards each other with weapons. That line "black out the sun" makes me think of an eclipse happening in the middle of this huge battle. I doubt anyone else will think it's that cool. You'd just have to see what I see when I think about that... I actually wrote that song out of pure frustration. There was this one song we were working on that never got finished. For whatever reason, I just couldn't finish it, and we really needed another song for our EP. So one night I sat down to work on it, but again, I couldn't get past the wall. So I scrapped it right then and there, and opened a blank project. I ended up staying awake until about 4am, after about six hours of nonstop writing and recording, and the song was finished. Later that morning I sent it to Erik and he went to work on it right away. Of course I spent a few days afterwards trying to polish it a little. The song is very repetitive musically so it's not much of an accomplishment to have written it in one long sitting, but it's one of my favorite memories about this band. I've spent several nights staying awake until the sun comes up, knowing I have to be at work by 8:00 AM, just because I was having so much fun writing. Too excited to sleep. And the songs were just "ok" at best. It's not like I was writing the next Master Of Puppets or anything, but I was having so much fun, I couldn't go to bed... Another line that resonates with me is "I left a surprise in your mailbox." That line is from our song The Paperboy, which is by far our most popular song. It's the fastest, most difficult song I've ever written, and it's based on the video game Paperboy from the 80's. Basically, we wrote that song about the paperboy kind of losing it one day and going on a killing spree. That was Erik's idea. We both wanted it to be humorous. When I was playing it back for the first time with vocals in it, and I heard that line, I couldn't hold back the laughter. I thought I was going to pop a lung. It was perfect. He did a great job on that song. It's heavy and funny, just like we wanted. That's another song that I finished writing as I watched the sun come up. Only, for that song, I watched the sun come up several times. That song took about two weeks to finish and I worked on it every night.
In the interim from composing new material, how much of a response has your releases gotten since they were made available on CD and social media?
At first we didn't get the best response. Our EP had mixed reviews where people either liked it, or hated it. It wasn't that great. Nobody ever talks about it. Usually, if we get a little fan message, it's because of The Paperboy. For whatever reason, that song has blown up recently. I've seen several posts about that song on various promotional pages, but none of them were in English so I couldn't read the comments or caption. Recently, I learned that people have been distributing it on Mediafire and several other file sharing sites. So we have no idea how many times it has been played or downloaded. At first, I was upset about that because it's available for free on Bandcamp, so I wanted people to download it from us directly. That way we could keep stats. Now, we don't have a clue how many times it has been downloaded, but it's cool. I'm just glad people dig it. We've released other songs since then but nothing else has ever come close to getting as much attention as The Paperboy... Though, my first song for my solo project, She Wants The D-Pad, is getting close to Paperboy. I've got to give a shout out to Zach Moonshine at MDR for hooking that up for me. My page blew up as soon as he streamed that song for me.
How do you juggle raising kids with being in band situations, composing and playing music? Is your family supportive of what you are doing? How far do you see having a career in music as a source of income?
My wife has always been supportive of me making music. She promotes my music whenever she can. She's a cosmetologist so she meets a lot of people. Anytime she sees someone wearing a metal band shirt or when she meets someone that talks about metal, she always brings up my music. She and the kids come first. Music is just what I do when there is free time. Music is fun for me. I have no intentions on ever making a career out of it. Every song I've ever written is available to download for free. I would gladly take a donation on Bandcamp if anyone ever wanted to give me anything, but I'll never ask someone to pay for my music. Unless I have some physical copies printed. Then I would have to charge but I'd still give it away for free digitally. I would love to have a career in audio engineering, but I'll never try to pursue a career as a full time musician. I'm afraid that it would take the fun out of it. Don't get me wrong, I would have loved to have been a guitarist in a band, traveling around, and playing shows every night, but I'm happy with what I have going on. I get to stay at home with my family, and make music whenever I can. My wife has recently become interested in doing vocals. She wants to try making a few songs with me. I'm excited to try that. I wish my kids could participate too, but I don't know what a six year old and an eight month old could do in a band, haha. Maybe they'll want to learn to play instruments when they grow older. I sure hope so. Making music with my family is the real dream.
You’re fortunate to have a wife who has the same interests as you and who supports your pursuit of making music. Too often people into playing in bands and creating music because they have something to say are expected to “grow up” and give up their prospective careers when getting married. More often than not it is selfishness on the wife’s part, but I digress. A collaboration of sorts between you and your wife would be interesting.
I'm the luckiest man alive. Music was a part of my life before I met her and she was supportive of that since day one. Though at first, she hated metal. She's a country girl. Now she likes it but only certain bands. I think all metalheads are that way though. We've gone to metal shows together on a few occasions and she loves it. It took a while but she's grown quite fond of the metal scene. I know two other guys that make music with their girlfriends and it's really cool. Alecia and I have talked about it for a while now, but we didn't think much of it until we found out that some of our friends are making music with their partners. Brett Summers is an old bandmate of mine, and he started a solo project called Chasing Chain Chomps. He eventually added his girlfriend to the band and they just released an EP. Another friend of mine has a solo cybergrind project called Morbidly A Beast, then he started a side project with his girlfriend called Muffin and Cupcake. That gave us encouragement to actually try writing together. If Alecia and I start writing together, I'm really not sure what it would sound like. I'd like to set her up on a keyboard and just hit the record button, then go from there.
How long were you composing material for She Wants The D-Pad before you finally released something to the public? Did you choose the name to satirize the issue of supposed sexism in metal?
SWTDP has been three years in the making. I have 50+ songs that I've started over the years. Some get finished, and some don't, but all of it has led up to this. My first song took about six months to complete, but I wasn't working on it every day. Since the day that I started recording music, I've had this idea about writing the heaviest music that I could possibly write, and combining it with 8bit sounds from retro video games. This is nothing new, however. In 2006, a few guys started making heavy music, but with 8bit sounds and they called it Nintendocore. Most of it had a lot of 8bit instead of guitars, but there is usually some guitar in there too. That's what inspired the idea for SWTDP as well as my first project, Elizabeth’s Honor. Video games and metal have always been a big part of my life. Bringing them together is fun. She Wants The D-Pad is a death metal project with a lot of 8bit sounds, audio samples from classic video games, and strong lyrical references to video games. The name is just a reference to a common joke. Some may find it offensive but I don't care really. People are too sensitive these days. Nearly every Cannibal Corpse song is about murder, but that doesn't mean that they're murderers. It's all for show. In my opinion, there are some lines that you shouldn't cross such as rape or child abuse. There is no humor in that at all. D-Pad is short for directional pad. I'm sure a lot of people have already picked up on that. All of the classic video game consoles have d pads on the controllers. The project is supposed to be comical. Synths in metal music have always been cool to me, but it seems meaningless most of the time. Using 8bit synthesizers in a metal project that focuses on video game themes, gives the synth a purpose rather than being completely random. I even modified an original Gameboy to make music on and record with, so that I could more accurately capture that classic sound. Which is also nothing new. A lot of people modify Gameboys, Nintendos, Segas, etc. and use them to make music on. They call it Chiptune. From what I know, there aren't many people using Gameboys to make music in metal bands, but I would love to see it catch on. There are lots of people who use Gameboys to make music though. Fighter X and Sabrepulse are my favorite chip artists. Fighter X plays shows on his Gameboy all the time. It's really cool. I wish I could figure out how to play metal shows by myself with a Gameboy as one of the instruments. I'll probably never do it, but I hope that someone does.
How many songs have you been able to complete for SWTDP altogether? As for your incomplete songs, do you keep those close by in case inspiration comes to complete those also?
So far I only have one finalized song, but there are around ten that aren't finished. I keep all of my unfinished projects. Some of them are so old that I can't even remember starting them. Every now and then I'll browse through them, not knowing what to expect. Sometimes I'll find an old project that I either get disgusted by, or I'll get psyched up on it and want to finish it. My biggest problem is that I'll get a riff idea that I like, but it might not fit with the song that I'm currently writing, so I'll start a new project and record those new riffs. If I'm lucky, that second song will get finished. It's an endless cycle. Sometimes I just can't figure out what needs to come next. I'll think to myself "this sounds OK but it needs something else." When I can't figure out what that "something" is, I move on to the next project, and hopefully I'll get back to the first song eventually. I've gone months before, without even touching an instrument because I simply didn't have the inspiration. Sometimes it's the opposite of that. Right now I have three different songs that I'm trying to finish, and I have plenty of ideas for them. The problem is that I just don't have the time that I need to finish them, so they end up sitting on my hard drive for a long time. One day I decided to see how fast I could play on recording and still sound clean enough to hear what was going on. The intro sounded good to me but that was all that I could come up with. I tried for weeks to finish it, then gave up. This was way before Critical Dismemberment ever formed. More than a year went by before I tried to go back to that song. When I finally decided to try and finish it, I couldn't stop working on it. Every night after work, when my kids would go to sleep, I would start recording for that song. I was up until 3-4am every night working on it for about a week. Erik heard my progress every step of the way. I would send it to him every night before deciding to go to bed. He would always check it out in the morning while I was still asleep. At first we were thinking it should be about a war between Aliens and ancient Egyptians, because it had a lot of SciFi sounding diminished tapping, as well as some Egyptian scale riffs. We ended up ditching the Egyptian riffs and added some glitchy arcade sounds and called it Paperboy. That was Erik's idea. The song is based on the old arcade game. We tried to make it funny. It's basically about the paperboy going on a killing spree. I combined samples of police sirens, gun shots, and people screaming to make it sound legit. I'm trying to force myself to finish old songs before starting anymore but it's not always easy to do that. I once heard someone say that being able to finish all of your songs is an art form of its own. I couldn't agree more. This seems to be a common problem among musicians, especially solo acts.
Are science fiction themes a major inspiration for you, or is it more of an occasional inspiration?
You could say that it's a major inspiration. Most of the songs that I write are alternate visions of my favorite stories told in first person. Usually a story from a video game that I like, but I want to do some songs like that about TV shows and movies. My favorite show is DragonBall Z. I have plans to write a whole album about it, but I won't hold my breath for that. I've still never made a full length album. I'm sure you could classify that as science fiction. I'm currently working on a song based on the black mages from Final Fantasy 9. I would love to make an album about the Fallout game series too. Fallout, for those that don't know, is a game set far in the future, after the world has been wiped out with nuclear warfare. That's my favorite game. I've actually got lyrics started already for some Fallout songs. So I guess it really depends on what someone's definition of science fiction is. I've never actually made a song about aliens, but I do love using scales that have that "outer space science fiction movie" sound. I can't even give a good example off the top of my head, but everyone has heard it. That sound you usually hear in an old movie when someone is standing near a spaceship, or in a room full of computers. I like those weird bleeping sounds like that. I try to sound like that with my guitar sometimes.
I think I remember discussing the track Paperboy with Erik when I interviewed him. How do you remember the making of that song?
That was the most excitement that I've ever felt when writing a song. Up until then, I had never been really proud of my work like I was with that song. I always felt excitement, but with that song, I actually felt like I was working on something that other people would enjoy. It was so far beyond anything else I had made at that point. That was right after I had quit my second job I think, so I would come home after work and stay on it until three to four in the morning. I worked on it for nine hours straight one night. When I was working two jobs, I couldn't have spent that much time writing music. For a while I didn't think I would ever finish it, until I scrapped half of it and tried something else. Every night I would export what I had done, then I would send it to Erik. I don't remember how many days it took, but it was the first thing that I started doing every day after work. This was before my son was born, my daughter wouldn't be home from school until 6pm, and my wife would usually get home late, so I had much more free time back then. I think the most important thing, what really made that song our best up to that point, was that we didn't get in a rush. We were both excited and worked on it constantly, but we both agreed to keep working on it until we were 100% satisfied with it. We never showed anybody else until it was done. When we finally uploaded it, the response was a bit overwhelming. We gained a few fans after that.
What listener feedback have you received about your use of 8bit equipment for SWTDP?
The feedback has been very positive so far. I haven't had any negative comments yet, that I've seen anyway, and that's shocking to me. I've gotten used to negative feedback over the years. Zach played my song on Metal Devastation Radio while I was in the chat room and everyone seemed to like it. I was a nervous wreck before they started playing it. Everyone loved the 8bit, and that surprised me, since there are a lot of people that hate electronics in metal music. There is actually a big scene for music like this. You would be surprised. Using the word "Nintendocore" in a conversation with metalheads usually doesn't end well. That's why I call it death metal with video game influences when I'm asked to describe my sound. I could talk about Nintendocore all day though. I love it, but I hate it. It's a small scene, and there are some artists who are very popular among the crowd. Some of them treat it as a competition, and I hate that. I try to support all of my friends who make music, and even people that I don't know as long as they're cool. Being a good person goes a long way with me. As dumb as this sounds, I'd rather listen to a decent song by a nice person, than a great song that was made by a prick. There are some artists that I want nothing to do with. Specifically the ones that bash other artists while speaking of their own music as if they've written a platinum record. Only a small percentage of people have ever heard of Nintendocore, but if you ever meet a fan of the genre, and you ask them who Iamerror is, you'll get the same kind of response that you would get if you were to ask a death metal fan who Death is. That guy practically has a cult following. The whole scene is full of people who are either extremely kind and supportive of other artists, or they're complete assholes that only care about spreading their own names like viruses. Most people are cool though. There are just a few guys that give everyone else a hard time. That's what I've observed anyway. It's the most unique genre that I've ever come across. One thing that makes it unique is that nearly every fan of the genre, is also an artist. I've gotten a lot of positive feedback on my music, but it all came from other artists in the scene. I'm trying so hard though, to reach out to other people who have never heard of Nintendocore. Some people have said that what I do is unique and fresh, but it's not at all. Those people just haven't ever heard of Nintendocore. I wasn't the first one to do this. Hell, I would bet money that there have been thousands before me. You could spend a solid week browsing through it on Google. I think the reason that there's so much of it and why some of it is so bad is because the only thing you need to make it with is a laptop and Fruity Loops studio. Fruity Loops is probably the most pirated software in history, so anyone can get it. A twelve year old could easily get it and write a whole album in a week, then throw it online somewhere. But, again, there are some amazing Nintendocore artists/bands out there. It's very diverse. You could basically take any sub-genre of metal, throw some 8bit in it, and it's Nintendocore. I try to write tech death with 8bit, some guys will make punk rock with 8bit, and some of them use nothing but 8bit and metal drum samples. Some of it is truly incredible, and some of it is so bad that you'd rather dig your ear drums out with a hot soldering iron than listen to it for more than ten minutes. It's one of those things that you just have to try for yourself.
Who were the first bands you started checking out to use computer programming?
It was a band called Preschool Tea Party Massacre that caught my interest. They're insane. The lyrics and song titles are hilarious, and the music is so ridiculous that you can't help but laugh when you hear it. They're not Nintendocore, but close to it. They call it cybergrind. It's usually all programmed instruments and weird synthesizers. Basically the same thing as Nintendocore but with other kinds of synths instead of 8bit. I was on LastFM one day listening to their station, and it started playing Nintendocore songs. The music immediately caught my attention, but I was also intrigued by some of the art work and artist photos that were being displayed on my screen. The first song that played was "100deadrabbits - Flesh." One of the photos that I saw, was a picture of them playing a show somewhere, dressed up as Mario and Luigi on stage. I was pretty much hooked immediately. Then Ishottheduckhuntdog came on (I'll never understand why some bands don't use spaces in their name). I listened to that station for several hours, then I started downloading everything I could find. The first albums that I heard were 100deadrabbits - Teeth EP, Ishottheduckhuntdog - For Derek, and Iamerror - Trout Yogurt. I still listen to those first two but I'm not really a fan of Iamerror anymore. I loved it at first but it didn't hold up well with me over time. It gets tiresome eventually. There was this other act called Oaks Parcel that quickly became my favorite but I could only find a few singles on YouTube. Those few singles are some of my favorite Ncore songs though. Another project that I could only find on YouTube was WeEatPixelsForBreakfast. I loved his music too.
This interview is my first time hearing of Fruity Loops. Why has that software been pirated so much?
Fruity Loops is just another DAW, mostly centered around midi tracks. It's got a nice sequencer for drums and samples and it's a bit more affordable than other DAW. There are multiple versions. I think you can get the basic version for under $100 but I paid $300 for the Producer Edition a long time ago. Then my laptop got stolen and I replaced it with a Mac. Fruity Loops doesn't work with Mac yet, so I decided to try Ableton Live. Ableton is typically the "go to" DAW for EDM producers, but it's fantastic for recording. I hope Image Line makes a Mac version of Fruity Loops someday because I still own the license, and some of the virtual instruments in Fruity Loops are great. Though I would still import my tracks over into Ableton for mixing and recording. When I first started using Fruity Loops, I made rap beats with it. I don't even like rap but it was fun to do and it was a good learning experience. I honestly thought that was the only thing that Fruity Loops studio was good for until I discovered Cybergrind and Nintendocore. These guys will program the drums, guitars, bass guitar, synths, everything right there in Fruity Loops. Ableton doesn't come with guitar sounds or metal drum kits like Fruity Loops does, so that might be another reason Fruity Loops is the first choice for a lot of these guys. I think the main reason that Fruity Loops is pirated so much is because a lot of young people want to make music and Fruity Loops is easy to get. I don't approve of pirating. I pay for everything I own, but some of these kids are still in school and don't have jobs. They can't afford it so they download illegally. This means that anyone with a computer can easily obtain Fruity Loops and start making music immediately. It's just too easy for someone to download it and whip up a song in a few hours, then upload it to Soundcloud or wherever else they want to put it. You can't listen to these songs as fast as they're coming out. I've done the same thing though. When I first started, I would come up with a song in one sitting, then upload it. Sometimes it's hard to hold back because it's so exciting to be making music. I made a ten track demo in one week, and it's terrible. I learned my lesson. Now, I'd rather take my time and make something that I can be proud of.
How would you describe in more detail the compilation put together by Travis Valois that you mentioned earlier?
It was really a group effort. There's another guy named Riely that helps a lot with these things. I believe he and Travis started talking about making a comp, and several of us were interested in participating. Originally we had eight people that were going to work on it so Riely thought it would be cool to base it on Mega Man. We all spent a few months working on our songs. Some of the songs were based on real Mega Man characters, and some of them were characters we made up. There ended up being eleven tracks altogether. It was released in May 2015 and he named it Robot Masters. You can download it at nintendocorelives.bandcamp.com. The next comp will also be there. Travis started a blog in 2014 and he uses that to promote other Nintendocore artists. He writes reviews, posts links to other artists’ music, and now he's putting these comps together. When you hear about Nintendocore, you'll commonly hear people refer to "The Myspace Days." Nintendocore was born on Myspace back in 2006 I think and it exploded. There were other blogs like Piranha Party and MusicNES back in those days. It seems like the whole scene has died since then, but recently things have turned around. Two big acts from back then have just recently come back out of nowhere and everyone is all psyched up about it. Oaks Parcel and Insert Disc. We're still not sure about Insert Disc bit he uploaded a new track a few days ago. I'm not sure why everything is turning around, but I have no doubt that it's guys like Travis that are responsible for bringing it back. I didn't care for Nintendocore back when it first got started. I had totally forgotten about it actually until four years ago.
What would be your description of Nintendocore to people who have never heard of it?
This question has been asked many times and the responses vary drastically depending on who you ask. Nintendocore is wildly experimental. No two projects sound the same. To sum it up quickly, imagine the music from your favorite video game of the 80's and early 90's mixed with metal drums and harsh vocals. Some of it is really heavy, and some if it isn't. My music is usually just metal with 8bit synths in the background. Some guys don't use guitars as often. A few Nintendocore projects use tons of synth layers, with a few guitar chugs every now and then. A band called "HORSE The Band" usually gets credit for starting Nintendocore. They're a post hardcore band with 8bit synth. They actually have a guy in the band that plays synth so I don't think any of it is programmed. A lot of their music is funny, and I'm pretty sure that they jokingly used the word Nintendocore once to describe their sound. Don't quote me on that, but I think I remember reading that somewhere. Some other guys sort of took it and made it their own. My first impression of Nintendocore was that it sounded like some older Napalm Death but with 8bit instead of guitars. That's not an accurate description however. There are too many different styles to sum it up that easily. If anyone reading this is thinking about checking out Nintendocore, I would tell them to Google it and browse through some of it. If you can't find any that appeals to you, don't give up on it just yet. There are tons of different artists with their own styles. You've just got to find the ones that you like.
Are there planned musical projects you would want to mention for the readers of this interview?
I've been working on a split album with Shotgun Guy for a while now. Hopefully that won't take much longer. I have no idea how long it will take me to complete a full album so I can't talk about that. Critical Dismemberment has a few songs that are nearly finished now so hopefully we'll have something new soon. The new compilation album from Nintendocore Lives should be released sometime next month, so keep an eye out for that. For now, those are the only plans I have for near future releases.
Who is Shotgun Guy and how long have you been working on a split release with him? Can you tell the readers anything about the new songs being composed by Critical Dismemberment?
Shotgun Guy is a close friend of mine. His real name is Micah Jordan. I think we started talking about doing this split about 4-5 months ago. He's already finished with his half, but I've been so busy with other projects that I've only finished one song for my half. Micah and I have gotten to be close friends over this past year. As close as you can get without ever meeting in person anyway. He consistently puts out good material in my opinion, and he seems to like the few songs that I've finished, so we decided to make a split. There are some heavy Nintendocore projects out there, but they're usually deathcore style with 8bit. I love all metal, but I prefer death metal, black metal, or technical death metal. And that's exactly what I'm trying to sound like. Whether or not I can actually do that, I really don't know, but what I'm trying to go for is somewhere along the lines of Dimmu Borgir and Necrophagist with 8bit. That's the kind of metal that I like to try and write, except those guys are insanely talented and I'm not, haha. Especially Muhammed Suicmez. He's one of my favorite guitarists ever. I just hope that I'm half as good as him someday. The 8bit is just fun for me. I love those sounds and they can be really heavy too if you do it right. Plus, I love video games, so this is my way of bringing the two together... Anyway, that's what we're trying to do with this split. At least I am. Micah has made some super heavy songs before but I don't know if all of his songs for the split are that style or not. I have no clue if anyone will like it or not, but honestly, I'm not even concerned about that. This is just something that I really want to do. It's too much fun to not do it. I feel like I'm doing something fun with a good friend.
What material written by Muhammed Suicmez would you recommend to the readers and why?
Diminished To Be Diminished, Stabwound, Fermented Offal Discharge, Only Ash Remains.... I'll save the trouble and recommend buying both albums, mix them both into one playlist, and hit shuffle. Everything the man does is gold. In my opinion anyway. I love Necrophagist. I hope I can play guitar like that someday. He gets ridiculously technical sometimes with weird time signatures and crazy riffs. It's the definition of perfection. Get on Youtube right now and find "Necrophagist - Symbiotic In Theory." I could listen to Necrophagist all day long. His solos are super clean, but his crazy riffs are what I really like. If I could play that well, my life would be complete.
She Wants The D-Pad