Name: Kevin McDowell
Current Release: Phase on Research Records
Recommendations: Im Blau - Kandinsky 1925 / Dune - Frank Herbert 1965
Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Mildlife, check out their website mildlife.com.au for more information and sounds.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
We started out a long time ago in high school. We always tried to create our own music. 70s rock was our main influence, very much on the guitar-rock trip. Any riff we’d recently learnt to play would be an influence. We kept exploring outwards from there. It was all about the thrill of jamming together.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Copying is a huge part of any art form, especially music. Understanding how the masters do what they do is really important. It’s how you learn an instrument. I think creating your own voice can be as simple as drawing from a varied diet of influence. After you’ve grasped how others do things, you can really work on your own sound, but you always need to go back and learn from others. As a group, we try and bring parts of our playing that suit the group sound.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
We often find it easy to come up with an idea for a song, however, it can sometimes be challenging to create a complementary section to an idea. Good ideas can sit on the shelf for a while we try to arrange them. Production challenges have mainly been about capturing the feel of a room into two speakers. I think that’s something that we’ll never really master but it’s fun to try and see what comes out.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
It’s always been a simple setup. Getting a good interface was pretty important. It made getting down ideas a lot easier and work quicker. Anything helps you work quickly is great.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
We mostly just play in a room together to come up with ideas. Sometimes we will sequence a synth or percussion. It really helps lock in a groove if that’s what we’re after. It can also help create layers that would be hard for 4 people to create.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
We sometimes base a song around a sound that one of us has created. Sometimes with a series of effects. Recently Adam mic'd the hi-hats to trigger his vocoder which added an interesting percussive effect to his guitar. In that example, the tools played a big part in the compositional process.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I guess a band is just a permanent collaboration. A big chunk of our work gets done when we’re all together playing in a room. It’s the best way to get things done.