(Victor Florence who you can check out HERE.
Interviewed A Problem Like Maria. she has a new EP out here.)
VF: Since 2011 you have released 6 EPs, 3 LPs, 8 singles. What keeps you moving at such a prolific pace?
APLM: I’ve learned to let go of my songs and accept them for what they are: representations of who I am and what I stand for, each bounded by a finite place and a finite time. In other words, I’ve stopped over-thinking. It keeps the music honest and current, and it keeps me sane.
When I was younger I was always to hesitant to release my tracks “officially,” calling almost every song a demo because in my mind I could always do better if I just waited a little bit more. There was no appreciation for the journey; it felt as though I wanted to get to the destination without ever walking a single step.
By the time I finally released a hip-hop EP in 2004 under a different artist name, the songs felt like they were written by a different person. The motivation behind the EP was no longer pure; by then it felt like it was more of something I had to do because everyone expected me to do it, rather than something I wanted to do for myself. Too much over-thinking ruined what was supposed to be a milestone—I got burned out by the process and stopped gigging, eventually hitting a creative block that lasted until 2011.
What got you over that creative block?
I got into a national songwriting camp. During that week I spent with 60+ different songwriters in a confined space I remembered why I started making music in the first place: because it made me happy. Everything else apart from that is just not as important.
I’ve always been fascinated by how musicians approach their own work. Do you have a certain set process in writing and recording songs or do you try to vary it with each release?
Each release is slightly different, but some things remain constant. I work best with a tight schedule of deadlines, which can be grueling for the people I work with (hence my short list of constant collaborators who are understand and work well with my process). Every song starts with a story in my head, and every collected release starts with a full-on concept—even if it doesn’t seem like it by the time it’s done.
It’s quite rare for me, but at times I work alone—meaning I produce myself. When that happens the schedule’s even tighter, and all other areas of my life basically shut down until the music’s done (this happened with Saudade).
Nearly all of my releases are mastered by Rekapper, but before that I typically send out previews of new stuff to people I trust—so they can point out flaws that I might have missed.
What is your musical background? Did you have formal training or were you self-taught?
I took piano lessons for a decade (from age 6 to 16), which accounts for my knowledge of basic music theory. My family’s Catholic background helped, too; I was in choirs all throughout elementary and high school.
There’s also my family, period. My mom plays the drums, my dad plays the guitar, and my brother plays the bass. All of them, plus my sister, can sing. That’s a lot of support and a lot to live up to, at the same time.
What albums did you find influential in how you approach music? What are you listening to these days?
There’s a whole lot of those, but off the top of my head, there’s Bjork’s Post, Tori Amos’ Boys For Pele, The Beatles’ Revolver.More recently, there’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu’s Baduism and Mama’s Gun, Imogen Heap’s Speak For Yourself.
Because of my line of work, I’m exposed to a lot of young, local music. There’s always a freshness and a rawness to the majority of my music consumption—something I’ve really come to enjoy. The downside is that I don’t get a lot of free time to listen much else. I’m still listening to the latest Childish Gambino, the latest Eminem—there’s always a little bit of Motown and the Beatles that gets rotated into my playlist, too. I’ve Jessie Ware, Com Truise, Chvrches and the new Beyonce on my phone right now so that’s what ends up in my ear when I’m on the go.
Beatles! Favorite Beatle? This is incredibly important.
I wanna say Ringo just to annoy RWE; but really, it’s Paul McCartney. All of my favorite Beatles songs are written by him.
What brought you to focusing your musical output on electronic based music? How do you work with your collaborators?
Performance anxiety and shyness make face-to-face collaborations difficult for me. Usually when I work with others the part I contribute is supposed to be the focal point (because I sing), and I’ve never been comfortable with that. (Choirs are different because the whole point is to not stand out.) This made being in a band—or even forming one—very awkward. Electronic based music allows me to work by myself or with fewer people (and mostly online), which makes everything so much easier.
Don’t get me wrong, I do have a band now and I do enjoy making music with them and regularly seeing each other. The Cellar Doors have done a lot for my on stage confidence; but at the end of the day, that’s The Cellar Doors’ music, and not APLM’s.
More often than not, I work with producers who provide the instrumentals for me to lay over my melodies and my lyrics. There’s a bit of a back and forth usually (email, Soundcloud, Dropbox, etc.); I’ll ask for some changes in the chord progression or the sectioning, even asking for adjustments of the BPM or the key sometimes. This is sort of the standard I’ve become accustomed to when working with musicians from The Hai (especially Water Gun Water Gun Sky Attack—we did a concept EP together called Decompose) and with Almost Technicolor (with whom I did Europa). Occasionally the producer will work with a demo I’ve provided beforehand (Mascara Hera and I have done this; the result is “Steal Your Heart” from Lagniappe).
How did you wind up part of Gentle Whale?
Someone asked me if I’d be interested in joining, and I was, so I said yes! RWE and I worked on a collab EP years ago and I already was familiar with your work and Mascara Hera’s—seemed like GW was all good people making good music. What’s not to like?
Not only are you part of Gentle Whale but you are also connected to The Hai. What can you tell us about the collective?
Honestly, I wouldn’t be as prolific and as creative if I’d never met the musicians who make up The Hai. We’re from all over—Brazil, Finland, Norway, the US, the UK, Canada, the Philippines—and all we are really is a group of friends who happen to really enjoy making music, occasionally with each other and occasionally following a theme. I really enjoy being able to hear and observe other musicians’ WIPs as they progress from demo to final product; and this is often the case when it comes to us, our songs, and our dynamic as a group.
I’m a huge dork when it comes to lyrics and I really enjoy how you write, especially hearing how you vary your approach with each release. How do you approach writing lyrics for your songs? Do you approach the song with a certain idea and work towards it? Or is it more improvised on the spot?
Like I said, every song starts with a story in my head. It’s easy to create a narrative for your song to follow, because you can get ideas from anywhere—books, TV, history, celebrity news, the title of the file the producer gave you when he first sent over the instrumental, whatever. What’s not so easy is to insert that grain of truth somewhere so the construct doesn’t fall flat. Songs need to connect, you know? That’s not going to happen without that little nugget of relatability.
On that note, I’m a fan of repeating sections, often multiple ones. Prechoruses are my jam. Most of my songs are also sung from a specific point of view—a specific character in a story.
It has been interesting comparing BONSAI (released July 2013) and LOVE LIKE GOLD (Oct 2013). BONSAI is embedded with a strong sense of hip-hop while LLG seems to be approached with more sense of space and mood. It’s almost ballad like. How would you describe the way you changed your approach between releases?
BONSAI coincided with a milestone birthday and was a symbol of how I felt during that time: nostalgic but finally able to let go and start to accept my adulthood. There’s a lot of hip-hop because it’s where I came from.
LOVE LIKE GOLD was actually just a way to finally release two singles of two producers from the Hai: StratosFear and New Dark Age. I love these two songs so much; they were both initially for different releases, but they complement each other beautifully. It helps that their lyrics coincidentally matched, too.
Do you have any plans for this year?
I’m coming out with something this month! It’s a compact little EP with some song collaborations from the Hai’s recently released compilation, plus previously unreleased content. After that maybe WGWGSA and I will start on the sequel to our collab EP, or maybe I’ll do another solo LP. Oh, and my main piano man finally has some free time so we’ll probably do a few covers. The Cellar Doors are also recording, so there’s that, too.
Thank you for doing this interview! Before we end it, do you have any parting words for the reader?
Uh. I have a new EP out called Cold Summer—it’s short, sweet and straight to the point. Think of it as post quietly-feeling-your-feelings revival paired with chamomile and spearmint tea, wrapped in a warm blanket. Go listen to it; the whole thing’s less than 15 minutes.