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about:river [Interview]

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Presenting their first and much anticipated artist album, about:river returns to Sound Avenue with long player '24 Years Apart'. Based in Estonia, about:river is a unique collaborative project between father and son. Conceptualized by father Oleg in 2018, the following year saw his 12-year-old son Ervin join the project. Initially a clarinet and keyboard player, Ervin quickly became a committed member of the project, contributing not only to live performances but also in the creative process, writing the main themes of their musical creations. Their productions tell a dynamic and sometimes epic story that happens to be set in a dance-groove environment. Since first emerging, the duo's fresh style has continued to delight both their fans and contemporaries, with the world's premiere electronic music tastemakers championing their work. An initial bond with Sound Avenue began in 2021 when the duo took to remodeling Nopi's 'Flatter', before going on to release the thematic three tracker 'Three Drops of Dopamine' earlier this year. With twenty-four years separating this elusive father and son duo, it seems only fitting that they unveil the biggest project of their young careers via Sound Avenue, an expansive audio travelogue appropriately titled '24 Years Apart'. We had a chance to catch up with this unique father and son duo for an interview leading up to the release. Enjoy!

Hi Guys, thanks for joining us. What is your current mood and what was the last piece of music you listened to?

Hey! Thanks for having us. My mood is quite interesting, it is a mixture between a desire to be highly productive and the counter-side being rather lazy and enjoying more the calm flow of autumn and observing nature and reflecting on things inside.

Ervin's mood is just “good”, as usual :)

The last track according to the history of the Music app is “Held” by Kiasmos. And for Ervin, it is “Thousands of summer twilights” by Owsey.

What are your plans for the coming week?

Well, first of all, there is quite a huge plan, to answer all 30 questions of this interview haha. Then we plan to finish the remix of a beautiful track named “Sail With Me” by interesting Korean artist Eric Seo. Also, started to explore the VCV rack virtual modular environment, this is truly the holy grail of inspiration and unpredictable results, which we love the most. At the end of the week, we are going, to begin with, the preparation for our next gig, probably focusing more on the track of the upcoming album. Also, we want to resume our “Round Table” jamming sessions and record some interesting visual content, but we’ll see how that will go, Ervin is extremely busy these days with school, math competitions, and other activities.

How was your summer season? Did have been any standout gigs?

Quite mixed feelings about this one. We were playing mainly at local festivals this summer and there was a feeling that the time has come to try something bigger. That's why we plan to focus on international shows next year. This summer session brought us the opportunity to play in one fantastic event, called Treski Küün. It was truly one of the best festivals we have played on.

Given that we’re coming out of a two-year pandemic do you feel a greater sense of celebration or freedom on the dance floor this past summer season, compared to say 2019?

In 2019 we were just starting and didn’t even play a single gig together. Ervin was only 11 years old, and I was still at that phase, where I spent almost all my free time and money searching for the style I wanted to embody my musical message. But I remember the summer of 2021 and exactly that feeling of celebration of freedom and joy of being finally on the way to the dream.

When you were first getting started in production did you have someone help you or are you completely self-taught? And what would you recommend new producers do to help with the learning curve of production?

Oleg: Before I started with electronic music I was quite active as a drummer playing in different bands, and different genres of music for quite a while. Music production was my spontaneous passion, which started from the moment I tried Logic on my Hackintosh in 2009, and then it never ended til now. Ervin was 2 years old then :) I was into ambient and soundtrack-like storytelling music as Lonely Vinnie and even finished the EP called “Meet me on Mars“, which is Soundcloud only “release”. These days I listened mainly to progressive metal, funk, and classical music. Then somewhere in 2016, I started to discover electronic music which led me to love analog synths and different melodic genres as well as abstract ambient soundscapes. What stroked me in electronic music the most was infinite freedom, and the ability to create worlds out of nothing. I can’t say that I am completely self-thought, because I took some online classes and participated in contests in Zwook online music school, which gave me a lot.

For those who are in the beginning phase, I would recommend setting a minimum amount of time per day to spend on the music, like 20 minutes. And make it a habit. And try to never break that chain.

Also, it is important to finish the session before you’ll get tired, this way it is much easier to keep this habit sustainable enough and it will eventually lead to awesome results.

I would also highly recommend finding an online school with professional feedback and a solid community, this way you will be feeding your motivation by sharing your own music with others and won’t be stuck in the wrong techniques.

Ervin: I learn piano and clarinet in music school. I started writing my own music in Ableton I guess at the age of 11. My dad was my main teacher in music production, but I took Zwook’s lessons as well.

How did growing up and living in Estonia contribute to your interest in electronic music? Or did it at all?

Yes, it did somehow. Estonia is the homeland of the famous neo-classical composer Arvo Pärt, and I am a huge fan of his music, and it contributed to my musical taste tremendously. As well as abandoned post-soviet architecture still found in some places around Estonia inspired the darker side of my musical ideas.

So, in the early years of about:river I believe is was a solo project of Oleg, tell us how Ervin (Oleg’s son) eventually became a member of the project.

Yeah, It is a fun story to tell. Ervin was 12 years old then in the winter of 2019, I was quite busy preparing for my first gig, but Ervin being a huge fan of Minecraft, urged me to play with him. To be honest, I was not so motivated but offered a deal that he would join me on one gig, and from my side, I promised to learn how to play Minecraft. Ervin accepted the deal, and we started practicing together. It was tough! We had 10 days and 14 tracks to learn :D But Ervin's ability to learn exceeded all my expectations. He memorized all parts almost in one go, my son is a fantastic musician and companion. The live show went really well, it was not a big one, but for us, it was an epic success and seemed that everyone loved the music as well, so the next day we got two more invitations for new events. Ervin really enjoyed playing live and wanted to join me on the next gigs as well. Later on, Ervin started contributing ideas for piano and synth lead parts alongside working on his own solo project "Ynthenn" and btw he released one of his own tracks on Traum. And yes, we of course started to play Minecraft together on our private server, and it is quite a big part of our friendship as well :)

A successful partnership is generally based around balance and compromise; how do you manage these things within your production dynamic as abour:river?

Haha, good point. We tend to have plenty of hot arguments while preparing for gigs, mainly related to the volume and sound design of live parts but not while producing. I respect Ervin’s opinion very much, even if it is something like “dad, it just doesn’t work, I think we have to start from scratch” :D

Do you have different roles in the production process? And if so elaborate please.

We have relatively clear roles in music production. I am mainly in charge of the beat, main direction, structure, and mixing of the track. Ervin on the other hand is a piano master, and our synth ideas are almost 50/50. But often when I lack inspiration I just let Ervin continue from whatever place I got lost.

You are well known for being a great live act as well, tell us how you operate live and is this something you prefer over DJing?

Thanks for the kind words :) In our live setup, we use Ableton and a bunch of midi controllers for real-time processing, fx, looping, muting, filtering, and so on. We have a couple of hardware synths and a clarinet as well. Currently, Ervin uses RolandJU06a and Minilogue for me. Use them for live improvisational layers for our tracks and sometimes midi-controlled parts. Songs are mostly just divided into quite many stems and which are groped as Leads, Ambiance, Bass, Others. Beat stems are groped as well. Each group of beat and melody has its own one-touch-release effects, like delay, and a couple of reverbs. Also, we use external pedals - delay, and reverb for crazy things mainly to fill the transitions and to emphasize certain parts of the tracks. All stem groups can be sent to external and internal send effects separately, which makes it really flexible in terms of creativity. Ervin is playing piano parts live as well as clarinet solos. He has his own DD6 delay pedal for alien movie sounds :D. I have a drum pad, which I use for one-shots only. This kind of setup is quite flexible, compact, and failsafe, and works pretty well for our concept, but it still with some major limitations. To be honest we tend to think that we don’t do so much live as it may seem. But for sure more than if we would just DJ with our tracks. I think we prefer our setup over DJing, because it gives up a much deeper connection with the music, and it is fun to be busy throughout the set.

Your debut album '24 Years Apart' has just been released via Sound Avenue, please tell us about the release and how these tracks showcase your sound.

We started working on the “24 Years Apart” album late in 2021 and it consists of 12 tracks. The idea of making the album was really intuitive, I just felt, that every idea produced in this period was connected with each other, and it felt quite evident for us to continue until there will be a feeling that this chapter is completed. The name of the album came spontaneously as well, and the concept of being apart from each other in terms of physical years lived on earth but so close on the other hand felt right as well.

I think the sound of the album reflects the way we produce. When we start with a new song, we have no idea what it will be when ready, even the genre is hard to predict. We simply try to go with the flow, not chasing any specific result or sound. I have a mindset, that whatever direction it will go, it is the right one for the moment it is composed. With exceptions of course, if it doesn’t sound right, we tend to throw it away.

Tell us how it began to take shape? Was there an initial goal of writing an album from the beginning or did this happen organically in a way?

The intention to release these tracks as an album came quite natural, I just felt, that this period of life, being so close together has to be imprinted in something bigger just an EP and all of the tracks are quite connected emotionally with each other, composing the story of a very special time.

The album is quite varied in terms of style which makes for a very refreshing listen. Tell us about the inspiration behind the album and why it was important for you to express your thoughts, ideas in this way.

Apart from spending much time together with my son, 2020 - 2022 was quite hard for me personally, but I learned a lot from these challenges and I guess the album reflects the emotional pallet fully. Happiness, loneliness, hope, dreams, it was so vivid and different. I think the album reflects what was happening inside.

How did you end up with the final track selection and how did you go about cutting stuff out? There must be a point where it becomes quite difficult letting go of certain pieces?

Actually, it felt so natural from the first track till the ready album. None of the tracks initially planned for this album were cut out. I just felt right.

How difficult was it deciding on the flow from a listener’s perspective?

Honestly, don’t remember :D Just went this way. Mainly the tracks are in the order they were produced.

What does your studio set-up look like? Do you favor physical gear over digital? And what studio tools featured heavily in the writing of ‘24 Years Apart’?

We have rather a simple setup, but with quite a lot of physical gear as well. We love to make weird layers of abstract soundscapes using external fx pedals and a looper. Leads, pads, and arps/sequences are also mainly made using physical synths like Korg Minilogue or Roland SH01a. We sometimes record our vintage piano as well, which came to us from the 17’th century. In some cases, we record kalimbas, bongos, and shakers, but mainly for abstract stuff. Oh yeah, we have a clarinet also, we use it mainly playing live, but some parts from live shows will end up in released music as well. From the digital world, we mostly use Arturia’s OP-Xa V, Repro 1, Repro 5, Labs Soft piano, and Addictive Drums for live-sounding drums and different Kontakt libraries for other things like hang drums, strings, a trumpet.

Walk us through the production process on one of the album tracks, whichever you feel might be the most interesting.

Making the track “24 Years Apart” was quite interesting and fun. The production started with an abstract layer made of some random recording of kalimba, and then heavily processed. The piano parts and a beat. Some field recordings of the grass noises were used in this track as well in the breakdown and also sampled as an ultra-high layer for the kick. There is a place in the breakdown where you can hear Ervin speaking. It was taken spontaneously while we were working on the tune, Ervin is telling a funny story that happened to him in school when there was someone in a bear’s costume dancing behind a window. Then we were joking and laughing and our mood was so bright so we tried to record some vocals as well, one phrase by me, one by Ervin. For all leads and effects, Korg Minilogue was used, I just experimented with sound and recorded a bunch of ideas by hand, then used them in different parts of the arrangement.

I would guess the writing of the album was a long process, now that it’s done what are your thoughts reflecting back on the process?

I would say that we enjoyed it very much, it didn’t feel like an obligation or stress at all. It was just a flow of ideas, which got captured and formed as these 12 tracks, that tell a story about us.

Will there be any remixes following the full album release? And how do you feel about your work being remixes in general?

Sure, Dom (Sound Avenue) is planning to release two releases with remixes only in 2023. Looking so forward to this, cause we really believe that remixes are the perfect opportunities for showcasing the original idea from a totally different angle, or can emphasize the nuances you even didn’t think of which can be really interesting.

Do you think the digital era changed the way we perceive artist albums? Do they still carry the weight they once did or should? Is this something that perhaps depends on who (record label) is releasing it as well?

Of course, it highly depends on the record label, but in my opinion, the weight can be potentially bigger, cause music is much more accessible in our age, and the difference between knowing someone from your favorites has released the album and actually listening to it is much smaller than in pre-digital age cause you don’t have to necessarily buy it.

You have released on Sound Avenue in the past but I would not say you have a long history with the label, what made it the right home for you to release your debut album?

Apart from great music Sound Avenue releases, we have a really good connection with Dominique and truly trust the label, so we decided on Sound Avenue.

Let’s talk about production again for a moment, where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?

I was questioning the same thing myself. But I think there is no certain answer because I think inspiration is always here, but it just can be hidden behind the wrong mindset or some really serious disasters, which fortunately don’t occur often. For me, the right question is how can I help release it. My answer is rather simple, by writing the music.

For you to get started on a track do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called ‘visualizations’ of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?

I have understood that for me visualizations as one form of expectation don’t work. I don’t like expectations in music production. And to be honest, I can rarely recreate the picture of the sound I hear in my mind, or it will sound boring if I succeed :) Probably that’s because I am too impatient while producing, and if the sound design of a particular element takes more than let’s say 10 minutes I usually start with a different idea. What interests me the most in the phase of working on the idea is accident mistakes and crazy experiments. I think these small accidents help achieve the most interesting results.

Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?

No special rituals, but a clean working environment and making it a habit works best for us.

Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite, I think. What marks the end of the process for you? How do you know when a track is done?

It was a problem somewhere in the beginning when I started before Ervin joined the project. I had a bad tendency of adding all the ideas I had at the moment to one song. Now we rather remove stuff, in the end, to make it cleaner, and to leave something for other ideas. The feeling that the track is ready comes intuitively, with no certain rules. There might be some corrections in a while, or after we play the song live. But this feeling somehow just comes. And the mindset of “the result is always the maximum we are capable of or need” helps to feel the boundary between the draft and ready tune.

And to add to that, how much road testing or friend feedback is collected to help make that decision? And who is someone you share your new music with first for feedback?

Sometimes, in the beginning, I had some friends, and my father (Ervin’s grandpa) actually who were the first to listen and give feedback. But when I got that internal confidence in the direction and the style I feel that I don’t need that verification so much anymore. Now I don’t like to be too influenced. So for me, Ervin is the one who gives the feedback on ideas :) Ervin on the other hand doesn’t share his own music at all till it is fully completed. Even with me.

What is the task you enjoy the most when producing and what would you prefer someone else to do?

I think now I enjoy every aspect of production, some years ago making the structure of the track made me really anxious, but now I got used to this uncertainty. I guess I like the initial phase of creating the most, the first steps when the flow feeling is the most prominent. Experimenting, working on the atmosphere of the song, and jamming around - these are the most enjoyable things for me. Communicating with other parties like labels, venues, social posts, and especially stories are aspects that I would love to delegate to someone else :)

What is one superpower you would like to have and how would you use it?

Oleg: I would like to have Ervin’s superpower of productivity and learning. He is a true monster!

Ervin: To be able to understand animal language, when I would be able to talk with cats.

If you could set up an event with a line-up of five artists of your choice (not including yourself), who would you book and what se times would you ascribe to the artists?

Haha, they are not quite compatible. Do would dream of booking Kiasmos, Powel, Fejka, C418, and Stimming. We don't have a preference for the time.

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

Oleg: Relatively many things actually, some of them are traveling, hiking, learning something new, rock climbing, motorcycle rides, reading in nature.

Ervin: Solving math quizzes, eating dumplings, playing Minecraft.

What does the remainder of 2022 and also 2023 hold for you guys? Anything you can share with us?

A couple of Ep’s and remixes are scheduled in early 2023. And some ideas for a new album as well are already waiting for us to be finished :) Apart from production, we plan to find some bigger international gigs for the summer season.

'24 Years Apart' is out now via Sound Avenue: https://bit.ly/3zqInRp

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