Music Interview

Joe Renzetti

by Marcus Pan

Joe Renzetti1. Nearly a decade of music, but previous to your release of Discovery much of it was more synth-pop or techno related. What made you turn your talents to the more ambient strains found on Discovery and your latest, Talking To The Dead?

While the pop music was satisfactory to me, I felt that I wasn't truly expressing myself artistically and it wasn't much different than the music being created at the time. I guess I was more concerned then with creating music that would be more widely accepted. Once I overcame that notion I started creating music just for the sake of creating music. I felt more freedom to explore different methods of creating songs. I wanted to do something different than the usual three minute formulated song and created something people could just put on and lose themselves in it.

2. Both of your ambient releases are of a distinct theme. Discovery is set in space with sounds that are truly reminiscent of such and can breathlessly take you there. With Talking To The Dead you imbued into your soundscapes the paranormal. This is extremely difficult to do - many ambient artists will have a similar tone yet provide sounds that are not as concentric to a theme like you do. Is it difficult to seamlessly integrate all your tracks together to equate with the theme you are producing?

At times it can be. I have written songs that were good on their own but still scrapped because they didn't fit with the theme of the project. Sometimes a song will be written but when placed within the context doesn't quite fit and gets tweaked a little. One example I can think of is The First Odyssey. The first draft was quite different than what made it onto Talking to The Dead. It had a major key, a bright bouncy organ solo, and sampled animal chatter. Changing it to a minor key, a droning guitar and an amazing recording of the ghost of Ellen Terry made the song fit well to the theme. Little changes like that can really make a difference on how a song expresses itself.

3. Walking the fine line between noise and music is one of the most difficult ideas to arrange. Yet somehow you stray neither to one side or the other - what makes you determine what is noise and what is music? Or is there a determination of this at all?

The musical part is most important to me. Most of the time the instrumentation is the key part of a song where the noise, FX, and soundscapes add to the mood of the piece, creating a harmony between the two. Sometimes a simple grand piano or acoustic guitar can speak volumes above layered sweeping filters. I feel today actually playing an instrument and knowing music theory is lost on many of today's electronic musicians. They just don't want to take the time to learn. I really enjoy sound designing too. Creating your own sound instead of simply dialing up a synth preset makes the music more expressive and unique to the artist which is where the noise part comes in. I also create songs based solely on textures and soundscapes, the art of noise can make a profound statement. I use it much like a composer creates sounds to tie in scenes in a film

4. How do you create your music and how would you describe, assuming it is possible, the process by which a concept or theme idea moves from thought to album?

In the case with Discovery, I knew what kind of concept I wanted and created it around that theme creating the songs in that order. Talking to The Dead was different. I didn't have a direction at first, the album was originally called Kaleidoscope. I had a few phrases and sounds written out. The concept idea came up when I added EVP sounds to a song. With Lalurie, Zygote, and Talking To The Dead Part 1 created the theme was developing. I usually have a general idea at a point of how the album will progress and work on the songs accordingly, where they will be placed and how the moods will develop and change throughout so it's all seamlessly integrated. It not necessarily tells a story, but places the listener in a specific environment and holds them.

5. What type of utilities, gear and equipment do you utilize in your home studio to create your music?

The core system is a hot rodded G3 Mac which ties in all the gear and is the multi-track recorder, sequencer, editor and mastering station. Most of the parts are MIDI sequenced virtual tracks. The sequencer, which is currently Logic, is a wonderful tool for writing as I can change sounds and parts on the fly and I usually write the song as I'm recording it. Most of the sounds are played from my Akai S2000 sampler with a couple old Roland synths for the fat classic sounds. A couple racks of digital effects and analog tube preamps and compressors and a few guitars. A good mix of analog & digital hardware so the sound has a nice warm rich tone.

6. Have you ever worked with others on musical projects or do you prefer to work alone? Do you feel you have more control over the music if working alone and that the help of someone else would taint it, as is common with artists of your genre?

I've pretty much worked alone. I guess I could fall into the definition of control freak. I have worked briefly in the past in a couple of projects. Once as a singer in a pop band and as a lead guitarist in an Industrial metal band, which is where I got my pseudonym "Ax Nyslie." That was pretty fun getting my angst out just shredding riffs on guitar. I still plan to pursue my solo work alone but I would like to collaborate on other projects. I recently did a remix for Estonian artist il_ya which is on his new CD. I'm also part of a new network of ambient artists called Greyscale. It's a syndicate of myself and eight other very talented artists. We are planning on releasing a sampler CD soon in early 2000.

7. You released Discovery via MP3.com's DAM (Digital Automatic Music) facility. How is it working with a company like MP3.com? Do you find any truth to all the scrutiny web-based recording facilities like them have come under or are you happy with the service and support they have provided you thus far?

Joe RenzettiOn line music distribution is still way in it's infancy stage. There's still a ways to go before a real standard emerges, so there are plenty of rough spots to be smoothed out. So far, MP3.com has been pretty decent. Any little bit of publicity helps and providing mp3 songs is an excellent way to showcase your music to fans all over the world. People will be more inclined to by CDs from artists when they know if they have mp3 singles to hear. After all if it wasn't for them, this interview wouldn't be happening. MP3 sites have been criticized for not compensating artists for the downloads they receive. This is gradually changing now and how it will progress will be interesting to see. For now I'll stick with it. It is a free service and it's certainly better than not getting heard at all which is all that really matters to me. I don't do this for the money. My biggest problem is my mp3 singles are heard out of context from the conceptual album so listeners don't get the whole picture.

8. To any other artists looking to use MP3.com's, Riffage.com's or another similar groups recording facilities, what would you say to help them not fall into the pitfall of obscurity?

Don't depend on these sites to do your promotion for you because they wont. Get out in the real world and promote yourself and your site. Play live gigs, flyer your town and clubs, send out promo CDs to magazines and DJs, spread the word on BBS and newsgroups, collaborate with other artists. Do what it takes to get noticed. An important thing to remember is to know your fan base and your genre. If your an ambient artist, don't waste time promoting to rock fans. Also don't just give away all your songs on line. Just post a few singles to get attention.

9. Discovery - your first concept album. Space is a much-explored concept within ambient electronic music and you can find the idea in so many bands and artists these days that it has become almost passé. Where did the idea come from? What made you decide to attempt this of your own accord? What do you think it was that made Discovery so much better than the other space-ambient attempts out there?

The idea came from "For All Mankind". It's a National Geographic documentary about the Apollo missions showing film archives set to music from Brian Eno's "Apollo-Atmospheres & Soundtracks." I was totally mesmerized by the beauty of the music and visuals and listened to the CD repeatedly. I almost immediately began writing songs of Discovery inspired by it. I was also listening intensely to the public radio show Hearts of Space, where I draw much of my inspiration This was also around the 25th anniversary of the Apollo missions. So rather than making spacey trip-out tunes, I really focused on trying to capture the mood and feel of what it must be like being in space surrounded by vastness. The album is dubbed "A sonic journey to the heart of inner space" since it's an aural journey the listener visualizes in his mind. It was such a pleasure to make and I was very pleased with the results. I did it just for fun yet it received lots of positive feedback so I then knew I was on to something. This was the first project I felt was original to me and I knew then this was what the direction I wanted to go.

Joe Renzetti10. Let's turn to your latest release now - Talking To The Dead. An amazing concept album. Where did you first find your interest in the paranormal world growing to the extent that you felt it was time to put it to music?

The paranormal has been a life long interest for me. As far back as I can remember. It escalated more a few years back when I started reading a lot on the subject. I was reading true ghost stories a lot right when I started writing the songs. Ambient music is very spiritual so the concept was perfect. I wanted to make something that was real, not your typical Hollywood horror. I approached it showing two faces of the spirit world. One being a more positive dream-like experience marveling in the majestic divine atmosphere of the afterlife. The other being the earthly realm of hauntings and psychic intrusion invoking fear of the unknown.

11. Where did you procure all of the raudive voice samples you've used throughout the album, such as those found in The First Odyssey and Raudive Voices?

They mostly came from Paranormal research groups archive. They were captured during haunting investigations. Some were submitted to them by people who just happened to capture the voices on tape, such as the dog on Ask the Horlo. Most are barely legible and required extensive audio filtering to clean them up. But the lo-fi sounds added a nice element to the music. A few came from archives of investigators George Woods and Betty Green. The were recorded on paper tape in the '50s and the voices came through in amazing clarity. There is also a collection of EVPs on a CD called The Ghost Orchid. A huge library of voices obtained around the world. It was pretty spooky working on the sounds late at night alone. Perhaps it was my imagination but afterwards I was hearing things late at night and the lights would come on. One listener told me when he played the CD his dog would freak out when voices were playing.

12. We must discuss Lalurie. I'm listening to it right now as I write this question. Few songs can conjure up such dread and mystery as is possible in the squelched screams, flowing chords and heartbeat percussion of Lalurie. What was it like to write such a song that is truly frightening about such a story that is as amazingly horrid as the work of Madame LaLurie of New Orleans?

I visited New Orleans a few years back and I read the story about what happened there. I was fascinated by it and had to visit the mansion. It was a creepy experience seeing the room where it happened. I thought it would make a great story for a song and knew I had to make one. I began making Talking To The Dead with LaLurie in mind as one part of it. I wanted to capture the horror of the atrocities that happened and the hauntings that followed, kind of like giving a tour of the mansion. It took a lot of sound tweaking to get it just right and making the tortured sounds was intriguing. I worked on it right around Halloween too so that helped.

13. What's the next theme, if any, that you intend to work on? Will you stay in the ambient genre like I hope you do, or will you move back to the more synth-pop genre you were creating in before?

I don't know what the theme will be. But I will be continuing the same ambient musical style. I can tell you it will be a bit more guitar oriented. I've been wanting to experiment on making ambient sounds on giutar as well as electronic instruments much like Biosphere and Daniel Lanois. I hope to have something completed by the end of 2000.

14. Tell your fans how and where they can best contact you. Do you prefer e-mail, written letters or other forms of contact and how would they go about making this contact?

I can be e-mailed at admin@joerenzetti.com and I do like to hear from people. I keep my official website and my mp3.com website updated regularly with what's happening too.