Interview with Owen Grieve
Owen is an emerging electronic music producer from Melbourne with a unique production workflow. His new EP Innervations, is set to release in the near future under his Zero Grief moniker. I sat down with him to have a chat about his experience as a music maker.
Let’s start at the beginning. When did you begin producing?
I would’ve started almost three years ago now, when I bought the Maschine Mikro and the Maschine program, and I’ve been using that ever since (laughs). I know it’s pretty archaic.
Was there a specific moment when you decided you wanted to start making music?
Well I started learning piano in Grade 1 and I absolutely loved it. Then my teacher at the time taught me the ‘Blues scale’ and I would just play the Blues scale for ages, writing my own Blues songs. I kind of got a love for making my own music from there and then I had another piano teacher in high school who got me really into Jazz and so I started using Jazz chords and trying to make Jazz songs.
In the end I kind of liked playing music that I’d made more than music that was already written. Both were fun, but I found more enjoyment in making my own stuff, so it kind of spawned from there, and then the Maschine was just a way of doing that.
Were you writing a lot of piano stuff back then?
I would write quite a bit, not notes on a page or anything, it would usually just be chords and a little melody line that I’d have in my head, nothing really formal. Maschine was the first time where I’d see a project from start to finish. I’d come up with an idea and then follow it all the way through and try to finish it off and have one whole piece, that was kind of new to me.
Tell me more about Maschine and why you’ve stuck with it rather than moving on to more ‘professional’ music production programs and hardware.
Well I originally bought it because a friend of mine had one and I thought it was really cool so I thought I’d try it out. I started making music on that and then as time went on, I’d learn more and more about it, and even to this day I’m still learning. I found that every time I learnt a bit more, I got more comfortable using it. Now I’ve reached a point where I’m so comfortable using it, I’ll go onto Ableton, and I know it’s supposed to be a much better tool for making music, but I won’t feel as inspired as I would be working on Maschine. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t spent enough time on it, but for the moment there’s so much more for me to get out of the Maschine.
Is there a certain element you usually begin with when making a track?
I change what I start with depending on the type of song I want to make. If it was something really dance-y, starting with a drumbeat is a good idea, house and techno and similar genres usually have a beat that’s really important to the song, so for those it’s good to really nail that first. But if it’s something more ambient or something more chill, like even a down tempo thing, it’s really good to have some melodic stuff in first.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I’m a big fan of techno. I haven’t really tried my hand at producing much of it though.
Honestly, I’ve always associated that genre with hardware. It’s kind of ingrained in my mind now, that in order to get that perfect sound you need analogue gear. One day hopefully I’ll be able to buy a set-up but that’s what’s put me off a bit.
I also love chilled-out down tempo stuff. I’ve really gotten into using Middle-Eastern sounding samples recently. Even Eurasia, like Turkey and Armenia, they all have really good traditional instruments and a really rich music culture. Also apparently there’s not a lot of copyright laws on music coming out of the Middle-East so you can just take what you want!
You use a lot of sampling I’ve noticed. Do a lot of your songs revolve around samples? Or do you use samples in more of an additive approach?
It depends. There’s two ways I generally approach it. One is where I’d make a song and go, oh it needs something like this and I try and find a sample. Or sometimes I’ll find a sample that’s just really good and I’ll build a song around it. Generally I use them to compliment a track rather than creating a track around them though.
Do you know much about copyright laws surrounding sampling?
I know a bit. It usually comes back to how recognisable the sample is and who you’ve sampled. So say if you sampled a bit of a Jazz song by say, Robert Glasper, he’s the type of guy who would be like, ‘Yes I love it, use it, don’t even bother about paying me’. He’s one of those guys who likes people taking bits of his music and using it. Whereas, if you stole music from Universal Music or Warner Brothers, they’re going to destroy you (laughs). That’s where you need to play it safe. But if you take a sample and put that many effects on it, you’ve pitched it down, you’ve done this, you’ve done that and it’s not recognisable anymore, then it’s yours.
Have you asked for permission to use samples in your songs?
I recently met up with the label head of Local Traffic, and we were discussing sampling. He was talking about the last release he did with Mr. Cloudy (Memoria / Sprayer) and how Mr. Cloudy had gone to a zoo in Russia and taken some samples from there. The zoo found out about it and contacted him and said that he couldn’t use them. There was a bit of drama surrounding that.
So with my release, we both wanted to be safe with my sampling, so I sent him a list of everything I’d used. Most of it was fine but he sent a message to the uploader of any videos I’d used from YouTube asking if it was fine that I had sampled them. It’s not super necessary with more obscure samples but it’s more of a courtesy thing.
Tell me about how this new EP came to be.
I had some songs out on SoundCloud; I think I had started putting stuff up in 2015 under Zero Grief. And then one day I got a message from this guy called Josh and it came from an account called ‘Local Traffic Recordings’, which is a Melbourne record label. I was thrilled because he said that he liked what I got and he asked me if I could send him everything I’d made. So I sent him what I thought was good, and then he hit back and said that he wanted to release the latest three I had on my SoundCloud. I really liked the idea but I kind of wanted a fourth track because he had chosen two with an ‘Australian’ vibe and one which was more ‘Middle-Eastern’ so I wanted to balance it out with another Middle-Eastern one. He liked that idea so I sent him a few more and he chose the fourth to put on there.
I was blown away by the whole experience, I thought originally that he’d just heard the songs a couple times and decided to do it. But after meeting up with him, he told me that he’d actually found my account five months before and he’d just been watching the stuff I’d been putting out and waiting for my sound to develop, and for something he’d want to release. It made sense because I’d been told before that, you know, you might’ve made the best Electro-House song in the world. You can send it to some labels, but if they’re not looking to release Electro-House at the moment, they won’t pick it up. So it’s kind of right place, right time sort of thing.
What course are you taking? And how much has it helped you in making music?
I’m doing sound production at RMIT, I’m in the second year at the moment. It’s helped quite a lot actually. We did two classes last year on composing music using electronic media, and we did a class last semester as well. The lecturers are very good, very smart people, and it’s also really humbling to hear them talk about bedroom producers like me. They’d go, ‘Oh you’ve got one song out, you’ve made your Soundcloud, you think you’re a beat maker now? Well you’ve got some learning to be done!’ That was me, (laughs) that was totally me. I did have a lot of learning to be done, and they really helped. I think I’ve learnt a great deal, when I go back and listen to my old songs now, I can really see how much I’ve improved.
Any big plans for the future? Long-term goals?
I’d definitely be interested in releasing an album, I’ve wanted to for a long time. I also know a lot of people getting into music production at the moment, so I don’t think starting a record label is that far-fetched an idea. It would be awesome if I could provide an avenue for some of those guys, because I’ve been very fortunate to be given my own.
Any tips for someone getting into music production?
I’m definitely not an expert, but making sure you’re filtering and compressing correctly is really important. Also making sure your fitting each part of the track into its frequency spectrum comfortably, you don’t want to be clashing or muddying your sounds. The main tip I’d give though is: keep at it. Don’t get disheartened when you finish a song and it doesn’t sound like the professional ones, mine still don’t!