rBeatz Exclusive Interview: The Dr. Frankenstein of Electronic Music, Mad Zach
In an age where the music performance is forced to evolve, Mad Zach is ahead of the curve. We here at rBeatz like to think about the future of music, and one of our predictions is that the performance element of electronic music will continue to get more intricate.
Cassette Blog describes Mad Zach as a “crazy scientist of circuit bending and hardware hacking” aka the Dr. Frankenstein of electronic music.
Mad Zach recently released his new EP, Fortress via Plasma Audio. The EP really showcases the artists experimentation into the electronic realm.
Mad Zach is the future of electronic music performances fusing elements of controllerism, finger drumming, and DJing. Currently, he is getting ready for his 2017 tour, which includes a performance at What The Festival. Zach’s style is a favorite of the big production tech companies in music, such as Native Instruments and Ableton. His performances have taken Youtube by storm, amassing over 10 million views.
Take a listen to the EP below. We suggest you play the EP, then read the interview for the FULL Mad Zach experience.
rBeatz is interested in the artist’s thought process when creating projects. Below are some questions we asked Mad Zach.
Where are you from?
I’m originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, but got my musical start in Santa Cruz. Also lived briefly in Austin, and now I am based in Berlin, Germany.
Tell us the story of how you got started creating music on your computer?
I played guitar for 12 years before I started making beats. I had begun to dabble with drum machines and synthesizers by the time I got to Uni. For some reason I always thought you had to have a PC to make beats, but then a friend of mine showed me Reason on Mac and leant me his midi keyboard. From that moment on I was obsessed lol.
At that time, there weren’t all the resources online that there are now, so it was pretty much trial by fire. I remember reading a lot of wikipedia articles trying to figure out what midi and oscillators were.
After a few months I transitioned to Ableton, and shortly thereafter began collecting hardware.
Did you play any instruments before producing on the computer?
Yeah, guitar for 12 years. Its a great instrument but I needed an outlet which allowed me more of a complete vision. I had all these beats and sounds in my head which I could not create with guitar.
What made you lean towards sampling?
I like sampling because its fun and inspiring, when you find a cool sample it gives the track a backbone to work around. It also opens up a huge world when you start to think of any recorded sound as an instrument. Its often a great way to add a sense of dimension to tracks.
It also intrigues me to think about how one song might have little moments from the last 80 years all seamlessly combined into a new vision, that trips me out haha.
What is your biggest accomplishment to date?
I could list some events but honestly all the usual “accomplishments” just last a few moments and are surrounded by loads of hard work.
So in that respect my biggest accomplishment is just to be able to keep making music all the time. I feel very fortunate to have found a path which allows me to be creative and not have to deal with too much else, aside from the unavoidable bureaucracies of modern life.
Who are your musical influences?
I pull inspiration from all over, jazz, hip hop, techno, miami bass, dub, trip hop, classical. I can usually find something I like in every genre. Of course I try to check out what other producers are doing as well.
What is your favorite controller for finger drumming and why?
Midi Fighter, because its nice and mashable. I like that the buttons are so easy to press and all pretty close together. It makes finger drumming a little easier when you don’t have to move your hands so dramatically. Recently I’ve been spending more time with my MPC2000XL, which isn’t a controller but is pretty great for finger drumming. I always thought I didn’t like velocity
but the MPC actually does a nice job with it.
You speak about “playability” in your youtube videos – when creating your ideal 8 x 8 sample grid on Ableton Push or Launchpad, what sample elements are a MUST to create a playable grid?
You gotta have your drums, some bass sounds, fx, atmospheres, hooks. The nice challenge about working with a limited number of sound slots is that is forces me to be very selective about which sounds I use and make sure they all go well together.
What element do you normally start with when creating a production from scratch (i.e. drums, bass, synths, vocals (not that you use too many vocals))?
These days I just turn the studio on and hit play on my midi sync box. That gets everything moving straight out of the gate, from there I dial in some rhythmic element on the drum machines, and start noodling on the synths. When I have something I like I’ll record a jam of it, or make some samples from the sounds I’ve designed. I have a few different ways I make music, sometimes I start by making a sound pack, sometimes I start by jamming out on my hardware.
Do you have a go-to sample layout when starting a project from scratch?
If there’s a sound pack involved then yes.. but sampling is just one element of my production flow so I’d say its more likely that I have a go to routing with the mixer. The way I route my studio everything has its place, in some ways its pretty fixed. So I always know which channel different sounds are coming in on. I also try to give each piece of gear a very specific role, so even though
I could make a kick on the Moog, I never do. The 909 kick is always on hand, the Mother 32’s just do white noise, the sub phatty is exclusively on sub patrol, etc.
What synth are you currently using?
I have a lot of synths, but my favorite isn’t just one, its all of them together. In some ways my mixer is my favorite synth haha. I do a lot of sound design which combines different layers of synths and fx.
Sometimes people ask me how I make this or that sound and the answer is almost always some crazy combination of processing which involves many steps and layering.
I do like the Sub 37 but most synths on their own are pretty dry.
What are your favorite sample packs that you’ve created and why?
Its hard to pick favorites, but I really love playing some of the classics from my second volume of packs. Mostly I love packs that give you an opportunity to play through a nice tension and release. Then of course there’s the 64 pad packs I made for Ableton, those are super fun if you have a push or launchpad.
What are some of your favorite VSTs and why?
I don’t have many vsts but some friends of mine use the Fab Filter stuff, which sounds quite nice. Also the H-Delay by Waves is excellent. I love moogerfoogers the most, which are hardware.
How do you make your kick sound?
There are a million ways to make a kick. These days I use one of my drum machines, tweak the sound on there, and then sometimes run it through some of my MoogerFoogers. I spent a lot of time making different kicks but in the end, a phat kick is a phat kick and its not a song or a musical idea (most of the time) so I try to stick with what sounds good already and focus on how the kick interacts with the rest of the elements.
Are there any critical producing tips you’d like to share with our young producers out there?
Yeah I would say don’t compress stuff too much, don’t eq all dramatically and try to pick out certain frequencies. The more I learn, the less I do, and the more I use my ears instead of numbers. If a sound doesn’t fit, pick another. I usually try to do most of my mixing with volume and very subtle eq curves.
What social media platform do you think is most important for young producers to get a handle on?
Myspace, hands down. Just add Tom he’ll help you find the truth.
What is your favorite part about playing music?
Going into a hypnotic meditation space and losing track of time and space.
What is your least favorite part about playing music?
Trouble shooting mysterious gear problems and not knowing if its the gear or me being stoned lol
What is next for Mad Zach?
I have some exciting tour dates scheduled for this year. Looking forward to playing at Coachella, What the Festival, Shambala, Hard Fest, and lots of clubs as well. I just released a new EP “Fortress” [above] and am finishing up construction on a new studio. I’ll also be releasing some new sound packs soon, and am preparing a few new releases and collabs, including a new track with Barclay Crenshaw.