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cheyenne_h on 07/20/2016 at 12:08PM

FMA Q&A: "It's all about experimentation:" an Interview with Steve Combs, CC Composer

Part of a collage from Steve Combs. Used with permission.

Sometimes we get curious about our artists. Steve Combs is one of those great artists that came out of nowhere (and started on FMA as a contributor for our microSong and Masters Remastered challenges), and has been contributing tons of CC-BY goodness to FMA for more than a year now. We wanted to know more about Steve and his musical background, so we asked him a few questions. Read on!

FMA: Give us a little background about yourself.
SC: My name is Steve Combs, I’m from New York's scenic Hudson Valley, and I compose the hell out of little electronic jingles. I've been doing this since March of 2014, and in the past two and a half years, I’ve put out somewhere around 300 songs under my own name, as well as another 50 or so through various side projects. Pro-tip: remixing your first eight albums in their entirety is a great way to build up your catalog.

FMA: You're a very prolific composer. What inspires you to write music?
SC: I don’t usually use the word "write," since I never actually write anything down beforehand. I say I make music, because my approach to making music has always revolved around improvisation: I'll sit down at the computer and play around with the keyboard until I happen upon a chord progression or a beat that I like, record 4 or 8 bars of it, and layer complimentary parts on top of it. Once I have all of that A section, I'll spread it out and throw together a B or C section in the same way until I have a full song. So there's really never a moment for me where I feel moved to write a song - they're all just the result of me sitting down and seeing what happens. But on the broad scale, I think I compose music because I'm fundamentally fascinated with musical theory and want to see what I can do with it. Instrumental music seems to me to be the best way to explore that, since I can use whatever scale, time signature, or instrumentation that I want without worrying about it being accessible. I do tend to write hook-based major key songs, but I've also done an electro-orchestral concept album and free jazz interludes and president-sampling EDM, so I think that level of possibility and freedom to create whatever is a big part of why I do this. I think it's all about experimentation, and seeing how I can use music in new and interesting ways.

FMA: Do you enjoy collaboration with other artists/musicians?
SC: This is actually a really serendipitous question, since I just did a split LP with the FMA’s own Simon Mathewson for Netlabel Day. It’s called Notes and boasts 9 new songs - 3 of mine, 2 of his, and 4 that we did together.
(Also, while I’m doing plugs, I have a new album of my own out called To Kill A Messenger, which is 11 songs, most of which were on my Comma and Apostrophe EPs, but also 4 new songs - including a cover of "On The Banks of the Wabash," the state song of Indiana.)
But to actually answer the question, yeah, collaboration is always fun. I haven’t done as much of it as I'd like to, because it's more work than just churning songs out on my own, but I've done a few here and there, and have always enjoyed it. Working with Simon or The Pardos or James Dean Claitor (with whom I wrote "Irascible," which is on my album Anaheim) is always rewarding and always produces something I find worth listening to.

FMA: Why did you choose the Free Music Archive as a music distribution platform?
SC: I honestly think the FMA is the perfect distribution platform for anyone who works in non-jazz instrumental music, because with the exception of Yanni, we don’t really have an avenue to success that doesn't involve being used as background music. People don't really listen to instrumental music the same way they listen to punk rock, pop, or country. I had to make peace with the fact that my albums aren't going to be anyone's favorites. But what surprised me once I started using the FMA, and what seemed kind of paradoxical, was that once people saw my music as a commodity, something to be used, they actually appreciated it way more than they did when I was pushing it like you would push pop music. Once it was of use to them, they actually listened to it. So in the process of discovering this platform, I had to change how I pictured what "success" was for my music - I'm never going to hit the Billboard charts, but there are people that listen to and like my music, not just for what it is on its own, as art, but for what it is to them. I imagine this is what ambient artists felt like when spas and yoga studios started playing their music in the background. Moods of the Rainforest, Volume 4 finally found a home! Someone appreciates it!
So to circle back to the actual question, I chose the FMA because it provided me with a level of appreciation I never would have gotten had I not made those realizations. The most immediate feeling of success that I get from my music is seeing that a song on a new album put out the day before is already in the background of someone's vlog or podcast. That’s pretty much why I use the FMA.

FMA: How did you find out about Creative Commons licenses?
SC: Honestly, when I saw the little tab on Bandcamp that lets you change your licensing when I put out my first song. I had no idea what it was, so I followed a link and learned about this amazingly simple, amazingly ingenious system. It had never occurred to me how needlessly complicated copyright was, and especially as I grew to accept that I was making background music, it seemed like such a great fit. The idea that people can use your songs in their cat videos and you don't have to sue them? It’s revolutionary.


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undRess_Beton on 06/10/2015 at 12:00PM

The 200th suRRism-Phonoethics Release is here!

Jaan Patterson & Friends - 'The Interviews'

Jaan Patterson & Friends - The Interviews
Released 18. April 2015 by suRRism-Phonoethics (sPE_0200)
http://surrism.phonoethics.com

Exquisite Corpse Cover A (1, 2 ,3) by:
Vol.1 by Bernard Dumaine/Immy Smith
Vol.2 Bernard Dumaine/Janelle McKain
Vol.3 Bernard Dumaine/Ton Haring
Cover B Painting by Bernard Dumaine

This compilation is based on cut-up samples that had been arranged by Jaan Patterson. Taken from Interviews of the following humans: Anthony DonovanFrancis BaconFrank ZappaGeorges BatailleGilles DeleuzeJean CocteauMarcel DuchampNoam ChomskyPaul ÉluardWilliam S. Burroughs.

You can find all 3 Volumes at FMA! ClickJaan Patterson & Friends


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