Thanks so much for joining me today! I’m so glad we could chat about the new Single, Forest Spirits, and congratulations on teaming up with Neu Gravity For this one. That must be incredibly exciting! Either way, let’s get down to picking that brain because I have some shit I am mega curious about - -
What’s funny is among the synth-head, or electronic community, synthesizers are rarely the first instrument someone took on. What was your ‘Native’ instrument? I find it really shapes how folks, later in life, approach electronic music. Thus, so many styles have been developed which titling them Electronic is really the only thing to appropriately call them. Would you agree, not agree and why?
Well, first, thank you so much for having me, Chuck. Before I got into electronic music, I tried out different instruments - violin, guitar, and the piano - but I didn’t end up sticking with one right away. I discovered electronic music production when I was 10 years old, and I jumped into that before I became serious about any instrument. However, if I had a native instrument, it would be the piano. I’ve only been taking piano practice seriously since last July, but I had learned some basics of it when I was younger that I think carried over into my music production process.
I agree that one’s “native” instrument affects how one enters into electronic music - whether consciously or subconsciously. While I wasn’t a consistent pianist when I started producing, I feel like learning the basics of it could have made the “theory” part of music easier for me to understand early on, and inform my creative decisions - and also probably inform my love for emotional chord progressions, haha. (Hey! I'm guilty too, nice!)
For those who do use a Stage Name, I also like to joke that I am going to put their given name in this interview - So, what was that given name again? And how’d you land up in Reno? From there, emigrated? Asking for a friend.
My name is Nicolas, but you can call me Nick. I’m from Reno, born and raised.
So, if you don’t mind me asking, since there are so many genres and delicate sensibilities which can go along with being wrong about labeling someone else’s material, in at most 10 words, what’s ‘Lithos’ all about?
Lithos includes (but is not limited to) techno that has deep rhythms, atmospheric textures, and minimalism.
How long have you been a Musician and what was your ‘a-ha’ moment that made you realize this was this only TRUE path you wanted to take with your time on this Earth?
I’ve been a consistent musician since I started producing electronic music back in November of 2010 - so about nine and a half years. Before then I was trying out different instruments in 2009, if I remember correctly. The moment that made me realize that electronic music is the only path I want to take occurred in 2019, after having done a couple classes for a psychology degree, I felt that I was at a crossroads of choosing between that path and music, so I chose music.
Why did you know it was your ‘one-true calling’?
Electronic music production has been my passion since I was a young kid, and when I started producing, I knew that I wanted it to be my lifelong career right away. I wanted to do something as amazing as my musical idols have, and life feels like it’s missing something when I’m not actively producing music. So, that’s why I decided that this is what I want to do, and I’m so glad that I made this decision.
Now, due to certain copyright/label stuff, I know you couldn’t really provide me with any tunes for this, which is totally cool because it opens another door for us - In your own words, please give me the full rundown, concept, themes, messages, etc - What were you trying to say with this record?
As for the “message” or “meaning” of this track, I will completely leave that to the listener. But the concept of this track is ultimately based around its deep groove and shifting atmospheric textures.
How were you introduced to Neu Gravity and when did you get the sense that this was a partnership they wanted to pursue along with you?
I first heard of Neu Gravity when they reached out to me saying that they liked my style, and I enthusiastically responded back from there.
Now, flip side, same coin - What drew you to them?
What drew me to Neu Gravity was that they seemed to have an excellent platform for techno artists who have a very diverse range of styles, and I was very excited about the possibility of my work being featured on their label.
This is a silly one to throw in the middle suddenly to jar interviewees, but at the same time it’s just good ol’ fun! So, if I could, can you please provide me with a general gear rundown BUT present rig only! Go!
I’m running Ableton Live 10 on my desktop computer. As for external synths, I have a Prophet 6, Moog Grandmother, Moog Sirin, a Behringer TD-3, and a Doepfer Dark Energy III. And as for other external gear I own a NI Komplete Audio 6, Yamaha HS8 monitors, a Mackie Big Knob studio monitor controller, and Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro headphones (a 250 ohm pair) with Sonarworks Reference 4.
What I can say is I heard maybe :30-1:00 of Forest Spirits and it was a pretty wild ride for that time span. A lot going on - I love the ‘jungly’ percussion used to kick it off. Something about ‘jungly’ tones/timbres/rhythms always caught my interest and you have a neat little grove going right out the gate. It stays upbeat through the percussive build as you subtly introduce more elements, like the finger snap heard. So, here I am bobbing my head getting into it UNTIL (and these are my actual notes upon listening) “Lively upbeat jungly esp on the percussion, solid rise and then the fucker cuts me off right as I’m most curious and intrigued! Cliff-hanger to the max!” - He drew me in so much I forgot it was a Press clip and I was so disappointed when I got cutoff. I assure you , you will feel the same but able to listen through so consider yourselves lucky! But given that I got to hear a bit, OF COURSE I have questions -
So, the percussion, I mean right there you’ve got me - I’m a sucker for it. That’s not to say I wouldn’t shut it off if it weren’t up to snuff, but it definitely left me wondering some stuff. I hate guessing how parts were generated; I ask oh, was this MIDI? No, that was a $4,000 drum machine… Never fun. I’ll just come right out and ask this time, haha. What machines were used in the development of the specific drum sounds I heard in that clip? The production of them to make them quite freaking clean, the decision to go with the ‘tribal’ vibe, that soft of idea. .
The percussion was completely arranged in Ableton Live using samples, but I always use quite a bit of processing (largely EQ, reverb and delay) to make the sound my own. I’ve also developed an ear for knowing components of a groove that I like that I want to accentuate, and I’m a huge fan of rhythms that feel “tribal.” As for how clean-sounding percussion is, I think it’s contingent upon making sure each element has its precise place in the mix. After doing sound design, I want to make sure elements don’t clutter, and that there’s enough breathing room.
Something else I’d like to mention is I’m a huge fan of using field recordings and doing synthesis to design my own percussion - and my own synthesized percussion is included in this track, too.
There’s a bit of ambience going to truly build that jungly mood up which really fits quite nicely. Were they computer generated, field recordings?
Much of the ambience is synthesized. I love experimenting with different ways to shape white noise in particular - and other synthesized ambience I also create from scratch. Excluding atmospheric percussion, another ambient sound was from a sample, and another element was my own field recording.
Also, the quality of the recording is crisp as hell. Do you do your own mastering, and if so, how long have you been at that? It fascinates the hell out of me but I’ll never be better than my buddy, so I just outsource that one, haha.
Thank you so much! Yes, I do my own mixing and mastering and I’ve been doing that since I started producing - and I pride myself in doing all the jobs, haha. With “Forest Spirits,” I didn’t go through an extensive mastering process, but I put the focus on making the final mix as effective as I could with some master chain touchups.
Is it the meta-focus mastering gives you on your material moment by moment that sparks your interest, the control it provides you to make a professionally produced track or something else that leads you to enjoy that process?
When I’m mastering my music (or mastering someone else’s music), I feel engaged by how I’m actively thinking about the ways that I can make a track sound clean and enjoyable across different mediums. It can become tedious, but for a track to sound good is all that matters in the end.
What helps me out in my process is the fact that I have the freedom to mix as I’m arranging and doing sound design, which is a huge advantage for me - I have full control. Also, I don’t know if it’s from ego, but I do love having the full agency over the production of my track, so once it’s done, I can say that the entirety of it is my own work - from the sound design and/or sound choice, to the sequencing, to the final processing.
Now, might be a difficult one, which do you prefer - Arranging your tunes IN production, OR the art of post-production in general?
I certainly prefer arrangement over post-production. Post-production I view as a necessity, whereas arrangement is when I’m able to let my creative intuition totally roam free, and it can feel really magical since I try not to abide by any conventional structure (particularly in techno).
I’m going to really pass the mic over for this one because I’m interested myself - You’re writing a new song, clean screen, nothing at all going on yet - What’s your songwriting process A-Z regarding what eventually goes down on that screen?
My process often consists of having some kind of feeling in mind that I want to go for - whether it’s techno or anything else - but also very often the feeling comes about from experimentation and what I respond to in the moment - like if I’m designing some synth patch.
There’s a particular sound or groove I like (whether I have it in mind or if it comes about from experimentation) that I ultimately decide to run with. Whenever I’ve figured out what that main element is, I go for adding elements that contribute to the groove that I have going on. Once I like the base idea (which can usually be a repeating 1 bar motif, or even an 8-bar chord progression) and I have percussion aligned with it that I like, I think about expanding that idea and start arranging from the beginning of the track.
After I start, the rest of my arrangement comes about purely from intuition. In my techno work, I start with the motif with only a couple of percussion elements, because I’ll be adding and removing the rest of what I’ve already chosen throughout the track. What feels good where, what needs to be built up, what sounds boring, and what I want more of are all things I consider and respond to in the moment.
Eventually, I come to a point of calming down the elements to bring a strong sense of closure at the end (that I have very much learned from producing progressive house). After that, it’s fixing mixing issues that I hear and mastering.
Another I always like to ask, since I just talk too much in general - Anything in particular you’d like to convey so it’s not just me rambling and totally missing the point on things important to you?
The only other thing I’d like to mention is that, while I’ve found my niche in techno, I’ll always be pursuing musical endeavors outside of it that interest me spontaneously. So, in the future, my listeners can definitely anticipate techno along with my particular interest at that specific point in time.
And like smoke, mirrors with a hint of luck, Lithos was gone. As if to dictate that he was the one choosing to end the interview. That's fine with me. I feel as though he earnestly and thoughtfully addressed what was posed to him. He didn't treat this modest opportunity with any lack of seriousness. Some folks occasionally blow through here assuming it's going to be only myself doing the heavy lifting, allowing them to spend all of five minutes on the question. These types of interviews are the fucking most boring thing you'll have the displeasure of reading. When folks come along like Lithos and they're eager and just so grateful for the interview, that's why folks like me do this. It truly means the world. I thank you Lithos for your time and care put forth here, cheers! Also, never forget to keep on rockin and rollin'!