I recently found Mr. Bill by listening to his brilliant Memekast, and went searching for more information about him and his music. It turns out that he is a very nice guy who has a blog dedicated to helping other aspiring producers with tons of great tutorials, many focussed on Ableton Live.
Mr. Bill has the a great knack for balancing the beautiful, ambient, melodic and sweet sounds with the hard-hitting, pounding, dubstep, glitch, abrasive sounds that make you want to convulse involuntarily. I was luck enough to get an interview with him where he talks about his setup, how he works, what he thinks about the music industry and more.
– What humble beginnings got you started in your musical career?
I began writing music when I was really young (around 5 or so) when my parents introduced me to the idea of it with Bill Haley & The Comets records and also the idea of creating myself with the use of a keyboard and banging on tables and such, so I was aware of what the idea of music was and the basic mechanics of it from a young age, proceeding that, I got a guitar when I was around 13 or 14, and played that until I was about 19 (joined bands and did the whole metal thing), then my parents bought one of those old macs that looks like a bubble and I started messing around on Garageband, then my friend was like ‘Man, fuck Garageband, have a look at Ableton’. So he showed me the basics of it, then I just got hooked on it and sat in my room for the next few years messing with it until it made sense. Then I did a bachelor in audio engineering at SAE in Sydney and that kind of clarified all the nitty gritty things that I missed along the way when I initially learnt the software, and now here I am.
– What are your favorite artists, or where do you get your inspiration?
Favorite artists are forever changing, but I’d have to say some of my favorites are my mates.. Circuit Bent, The Mollusk, Tom Cosm, Sun In Aquarius, MindBuffer/Tree and a bunch more of the Australian crew, as well as some bigger artists like Amon Tobin, Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, Boxcutter, Mount Kimbie, The Flashbulb, etc. As for inspiration I draw it from everything really. Everything from other music I hear to simple things like just feeling really good one day.
– How do you think about the music industry right now? Is music better now or in the past?
The music industry at the moment is kind of bad, everyone’s just downloading things illegally and very rarely buying music, so music sales just seem to be out of the question in terms of making a living, however in a way it’s kind of cool, because it’s bred new business models, like freemium based business models and also of course the whole BandCamp ‘pay what you want’ thing. You can definitely live off music with the industry in the state it’s in, but it takes some different thought to do it. The days of selling records and living off that are certainly over.
– What do you do when you get creatively stuck?
I don’t really get creatively stuck, but sometimes I just don’t feel like writing music, in which case I’ll just do sound design stuff, or just do something else completely, like go see a friend, or make lunch or something.
– How do you approach music making? Do you do it in steps, all at once, do you even have a set way of doing things?
It’s entirely random. I just sit down and start making sounds, and that turns me into a reactive artist where those sounds inspire me to do one thing, then another, then another, and it just becomes a chain reaction until the piece is finished.
– You do some great Ableton tutorials, how long have you been using Ableton? Are you working only “in the box”? What is your aesthetic when it comes to hardware and software?
I’ve been using Ableton for about 5 years now. I’m almost entirely in the box yes, but I record a lot of my own sounds, I have some good mics and a good pre-amp, and I use a Virus TI (hardware synth) sometimes, and recently my girlfriend has become fascinated with electronics and she just built me a hardware compressor from scratch, and she’s in the process of building a bunch of other things, so I think slowly I’ll start to move to hardware and use it more and more. My aesthetic when it comes to hardware and software. I guess it’d be software, but I like the extremes of both worlds, I like really crisp, digital sounds, and really ratty, dodgy hardware sounds.
– For those who aren’t familiar with your website and tutorials, are there any techniques , recommendations or advice you care to share with others who are aspiring to make music or sounds like what you do?
The best thing you can do is just sit down and mess around with things and find your own way of doing things, as that’ll end up shaping your entire sound. Probably the worst thing you can do is watch tutorials and follow them step for step, my advice for tutorials is just to use them as a basic guide and take your own path with similar ideas.
– Do you have any special preparations for live shows?
Not really. I usually try to have a few moments alone to just get my thoughts together if the crowd is really big, just so I can kind of fathom what’s happening and what’s about to happen, and just calm the nerves a bit, but apart from that, I’m pretty easy going with playing shows, no huge, obscure ceremonies or anything.
– Are you performing live, with improvisation, or do you rely more on pre-programmed scene launches, effects, and other elements?
A bit of both. There’s parts of the set where I’m free to change things completely and other parts of the set where I’ve kind of set myself limits where in the studio I’ve said to myself ‘I spent way too long on this track, or this section of a track to want to change it live, because, that’s exactly the way I want people to hear it’.
– How much sound design are you doing to create libraries? Do you rely on raw samples that you warp or are you getting sample packs and just picking through them?
Lots of sound design. I very rarely use stock samples without entirely mutilating them, unless I’m trying to make a piece that sounds obviously sampled.
– What one piece of gear can’t you live without? (besides Ableton)
My speakers and my room. I use a set of Event Opals in a treated room, and I just love the way it sounds in there. Whenever I write anywhere else (including other studios and headphones), I can’t seem to get the mix right.
– I love my Korg ESX electribe sampler, mainly because it has limitations. Before I got it, I would stare at the screen for hours trying to get something right, and end up without any music. Do you ever use certain gear to help limit you possibilities for the better?
Yeah, definitely. Sometimes I’ll write a track and just set limits on myself. Like, I’ll say ‘Ok, this track will have no VST’s at all’ and just purely write with samples I record and other samples I find and process them in other ways without the use of VST’s to make them sound the way I want, other times I’ll do the opposite and say ‘No samples’, and write an entire track just with synths. Things like this can definitely force me to be more innovative and get results I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.
– I see you worked with Tom Cosm as well as others. Do you enjoy collaborating, or do you like having creative control?
I love collaboration, I think it’s really important. I’ve written lots of tracks by myself, and it gets to a point where sometimes I just need a fresh perspective on an idea I have to turn me into a reactive artist again (as I mentioned earlier) which will propel me into trying other things I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. Also, I always learn heaps when I’m working with other people.
ADSR did a great video interview with Mr. Bill where he shows some of his techniques here…