Name: Red On aka Philipp Roth
Occupation: Producer, DJ, multi-instrumentalist, label owner at Verydeeprecords
Current release: The new Red On album Drums is out via verydeeprecords.
Recommendations: The first recommendation came out on my own label last year: The debut album of LiÆN called Featuring Pascals Skatebord – some kind of future lofi songwriter pop. Bold and calm at the same time … I really love this record!
And then, what inspired me most over the last years, is the fantastic work of drummer Valentina Magaletti. If I must choose one particular album, maybe start with “Memory In Vivo Exposure” by Tomaga, but make sure you also check out her other projects such as CZN, Holy Tongue and Moin! [Read our Tomaga interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with Red On and would like to find out more about his work, visit him on Instagram and Facebook.You can also visit his design agency Complex Pleasures for your graphic design requests.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
When I was a teenager, I had an indie band with friends. Back then I listened to all kinds of stuff, mostly rock and rock related music. Somehow, I got less and less interested in playing my actual instrument (bass) and more and more in effect pedals. I think this led to a passion for all kinds of devices with knobs …
When it comes to listening to music, I would name the moment I realized that so called genre boundaries simply do not exist.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I find it difficult to determine myself, what’s the unique thing about my music or sound. That’s because in everything I do, whether it's sound or visual design, I feel like processing a sum of influences, referring to familiar things, crossing boundaries or consciously adhering to these boundaries.
But, of course, I remember very clearly having recreated certain songs or aesthetics. But often, when doing so, I lose patience and drift into something else before I am finished with copying a particular song – like when you switch off in the middle of a tutorial video because you think you've already figured it out. Not true, of course, and then you end up with something completely different.
What more often guides me is a certain device. For example, the sound characteristics or even just the interface of a certain delay pedal. I think I have developed a very close relationship with many devices in this respect and my personal way to operate them. Maybe that’s this finding my own sound thing?
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I cannot completely feel the impulse to express myself that many artists talk about. It may be that I don't take myself too seriously. As a white cis man, that's probably a good thing anyway, because my stories have been told in an infinite number of songs.
But on the other hand, I am a totally output driven person. Not only in music, but also in my graphic design work, I am thrilled by putting stuff out in the world, work I created, designed, wrote, produced. So, I’m kind of continuously rewriting an aesthetic story about my identity, which is fun.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I sometimes struggle with my skills on the instrument. I learned a few instruments as a kid but never took any of them further. In Red On it's not so noticeable and I enjoy calling myself a "multi-instrumentalist".
But my other band Miira is a duo with a drummer. When we started the band, I did not know how to play the guitar and he didn’t know how to play the drums. So, playing in a duo means a lot of responsibility for two amateurs … It was a long process for us to confirm again and again that the project is about something else than our skills on the instrument in the classical sense.
But this has become easier over the years. Maybe a mixture of defiance and positive feedback – and the belief, that good songs and bands need more than just good instrumentalists.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Oh, this is about gear again ... OK. A lot of the music I've written is closely tied to a new piece of equipment. Not necessarily bought new, but newly discovered.
I started making electronic music on my laptop in Ableton live. But there are some things that totally bore me about making music with the computer: Setting up MIDI Controllers to make the computer feel like a hardware setup, a shitty live performance vibe and the sound I get out of Ableton – most of the times it feels like a ghost of what I really intended.
Sorry, this sounds like analog romanticization, but in fact Ableton is still my main tool, the center of my studio. I simply don’t like creating sounds with of it or some plugins. Therefore, I use a messy collection of hardware synths, guitars, keyboards, drum machines or just found samples and live recordings – ah! And most importantly: Delay machines. I love creating accidents and randomness, but I’m not really the guy for coding audio or getting deeper into generative music. I feel quite comfortable with creating these lucky accidents by just patching pedals in different orders and sometimes something might not work the way it’s supposed to.
Yeah, and then there's playing live: My life setup is created around an analogue mixing console, gathering various signals from the computer like backing tracks, samples and so on, and external instruments. I can run all these signals through effects and loopers via send channels. Of course, I could set this whole thing up in the computer, which would require far less cables. But it would not be the same for the performance and my feeling on stage.
This live setup now is some kind of continuously evolving organism, that definitely also has an impact on my studio workflow.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Amps! When I play live, the output of my on-stage mixer runs through a stereo amp setup. A pragmatic solution for small venues at first, this setup has fundamentally changed the sound of my music and also the way I can interact with equipment while playing. Much less like an electronic live set (guy behind laptop) and more like a guitar running through an amp in a band.
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?
Red On is a solo project. That means the impulses and a huge part of the compositions and creative processes are coming from me. But already at the very beginning I played the music live with two other musicians and built a band out of it. Then there was a time when the collaboration with other people in the project somehow became complicated and exhausting, and I rather did some solo performances.
For my current work, collaborating with other creatives across all disciplines has become very important again. This kind of started with a tour where VJ Subrihanna joined us and played live visuals to my music. Since then, we've been playing concerts together as an audio/visual live act. And also, in the development process of the new album many other people were involved. The two drummers had a great influence on the song writing and there are even vocal features. For me, this has created a process of constant opposing influence with many people around me – almost like a real band!
Maybe there will come a time when I want to control everything myself again. But for now, I really enjoy this collective sound and workflow. I love how the album and the current live set turned out – both impossible without all the people involved.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I mostly work as a freelance graphic designer and recently started a small design office called Complex Pleasures. My first connection to design was through posters and record covers – so there’s really no way to separate music and design in my work and life.
Recently, I kind of slipped into a nine to five (or seven) week with this new office and the label I run, just because the amount of work is endless … But I try to free up more time for my music because I don’t want these two aspects to be like job and hobby. And fortunately releasing a new album and playing live shows again has already started to bring this back into balance …
And about my daily routine: I try to get up early, what I hate and love at the same time (laughs) – but I don’t really have a fixed schedule and I like that!
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Subrihanna and I were totally excited when we were asked to play at Meakusma Festival in Belgium! Maybe no one else noticed the importance of this, but for me this felt like a welcome to this grown-up experimental music scene.
And now there is the new album, which really feels like a big thing for me … let’s see what other people think of this one …
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
The biggest distraction is definitely when I have work to do. How work is defined in that case varies, so let’s call it a long list of to-dos.
To get into the right state of mind for free creative work, I need time and space. And then there is this feeling I get in the last days of a long holiday or time off … it’s a mixture of very detailed musical ideas taking shape in my head and homesickness for my studio.
The best strategy I have for “getting inspired” is being patient and not forcing things. I often carry ideas for music around in my head and turn them over and over, before I play a single note. These ideas often start when listening to other people’s music, attending concerts or exhibitions. For me this means there are times of the year where I don’t make any music at all, there are times for playing live and touring – which means I also have no time to make new music, and there are times when I produce lots of new music.
I have learned to be OK with that.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I listen to a lot of music which people around me call “sad”. So, what creates the most uplifting or intense moments for me, is often slow or dark music.
Listening to this music creates some kind of healing for me. And I experience a similar effect, when listening to aggressive music like post-hardcore stuff.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I think this is about being a good person, not to be racist and sexist or discriminating in other ways – which, of course, also includes one’s creative work and output. I think the key is to be aware of your own privileges.
In music and art, this is as hard as everywhere else, because our Western society is so deeply imbued by all kinds of discriminations. They are deeply hidden under everyday things. That’s why we constantly need to change our view, listen to other people and rethink our actions. A lot has been said and written about this. So go ahead and read that stuff and listen to the people affected!
And most importantly we should not be offended if anyone holds a mirror up to us. I am really annoyed by people getting angry because of their stupid pride, although they are actually in the wrong.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
When we play live shows as Red On + Subrihanna, we try to make the visual aspect of our performance equal to the sound. Often live visuals are some kind of decoration or simply a tool to create a good atmosphere in a club. But when I talk to people after the shows, I get the feedback, that this goes deeper in our sets. One would not be the same without the other. This creates truly audio/visual moments, that cannot be transferred to an album artwork or streaming platform.
So, this overlap between senses is very important to us and we keep working on different setups and possibilities. But we also keep this a live thing, cause simply listening to an album is something I love and have no motivation to reinvent that.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I think it’s a good idea to do political art, in the sense of political affirmations woven into your body of work. Unfortunately, I did not end up in a queer riot punk band but in avantgarde electronic music – and mostly instrumental. I used to be kind of unsatisfied with my musical output, because of this.
Sometimes I feel this needs a reminder: Not all political art has a political message in itself. But it can be political in the way we work, in the way we involve people and share knowledge. When watching producers of electronic music, I see men gathering in studios and record stores, talking about their gear and recent releases. Places that are meant to be open and inviting for everyone, but in fact are not. And even, when they try to welcome young (not male) musicians, they mix up technical perfection with doing relevant art.
When helping people to become an artist, I really see no sense in showing them how to perfectly record their voice when that means losing all their uniqueness and spirit on the way. When hosting concerts or collaborating with artists, I try to remind me of these things over and over, try to be inclusive and welcoming, involve a diverse range of people and so on … This is easier done with my label Verydeeprecords, where supporting artists is an inherent purpose. But it also goes for my artist persona, trying to reach out hands and support wherever it’s needed and welcomed.
Yeah, and I guess pursuing this does not stop when I leave the rehearsal room or the stage, but directly feedbacks into my everyday life and the way I want to be with other people.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
This is the point where I need to reveal, that my music has a lack of content (laughs) and often is more of an aesthetic research … I don’t try to express anything – which doesn’t mean my music, and music in general can’t create tons of emotions, stories, truths about everything! But I also love Novels (laughs).