The job requirements of an established musician usually extend beyond simply creating music and getting onstage to perform it.
To illustrate, when the BRAG speaks with Mike Perry – AKA Paces – he’s just come from the Australian Institute of Music, where he’s been offering practical assistance to a couple of competition-winning producers.
“The prize was that they’d get to have a four-hour session with me in the studio and I’d help them finish their tracks,” he says. “I picked out the winners and we got to work. It was so hard to pick two winners. I spent hours and hours making a shortlist and then I slept on it and then the next day I spent hours trying to narrow it down even further. It was agony because there were so many good entrants.”
In the past few years, Paces has established himself as a chart-pervading original producer, a savvy remixer, and a sought-out collaborator (his most notable production being Tkay Maidza’s acclaimed breakthrough single ‘Switch Lanes’). Hearing of his involvement in the AIM competition gives us the perfect segue to explore his own background in electronic production.
“I learnt sometimes through YouTube tutorials, sometimes just a friend showing me a thing or two,” he says. “But then a lot of my friends who did a music production course, they got good really quick. I feel like doing something like that, you can shave three years off the learning curve. If I could’ve done it differently, I definitely would’ve done a course or something.”
Although Perry laments not enrolling in study, it hasn’t proved a hindrance. He’s just jumped on the road in support of his latest single ‘Hold It Down’, which features vocals from Perth’s Reija Lee. It’s a fairly accessible electronic pop song, though it’s composed of a number of volatile elements – various synth sounds, from conventional keyboards to bass synths, as well as alternating percussion elements, come in and out of play throughout the track.
“I don’t own any actual synths,” Perry says. “I just have a MIDI keyboard and I do everything within my laptop. I always start with the chords. I usually will just get a plain piano sound and figure out a nice chord progression. Sometimes I’ll spend half a day or a whole day trying to get the right chord progression. Then I’ll hang onto the ones that work, and that’s where all my songs start these days. If the chords aren’t right, I don’t bother going onto the next step.”
Perry’s quest for the right chord progression leads to the question, ‘right’ in relation to what? Exploration into the unknown can lead to some stunning discoveries, but it can also be a dizzying task if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Paces’ tracks are generally triggered by something in particular.
“I might have heard some songs that have inspired me and I might like a certain thing about it – like how the chords do a certain thing,” he says. “You never want to just rip something off like that, but you can be inspired by something and that can unlock a whole bunch of other ideas that you never would’ve thought of. I always like to start writing music when I’m inspired and wherever your own ideas are going to flow from, they flow a lot easier.”
In line with this attitude, Perry actively seeks out tracks and artists that could push him onto an unexpected tangent. “I’m always trying to listen to as much music as I can. Sometimes I’ll deliberately listen to genres I don’t really like just to see if anything strikes me as good ideas within it. [Inspiration] can come from anywhere, so you’ve got to be constantly on the lookout.
“It’s so easy to get into a rut if you’re only listening to the same things forever. You end up doing the same thing forever. You really have to make an effort to look outside of those familiar places.”
While he’s now committed to hunting for new influences in order to diversify his productions, there were a few prominent artists that triggered Perry’s initial experiments with electronic music.
“When I was first figuring things out, like everyone did, I was probably trying to sound like Flume and trying to sound like Mount Kimbie and those type of acts. But I quickly realised I would have to put my own spin on things if there was going to be any point to it. I’ve always loved the tropical sounds like steel drums and kalimbas, so I figured out fairly early in the piece that it’s going to have to revolve around that if I’m going to have any chance of having my own sound.
“If there’s a sound that’s saturated at the moment, some sound that’s really genre-specific, I’ll often make a rule where I’m not going to use that sound ever, even if I normally have been. I think you can really easily fall into the trap of making genre music, where it’s going to be great within that genre but it’ll never go past that. The only way to escape that is to use other sounds. Even though it can be difficult, you have to force yourself to step away from those familiar things.”
Get along to Newtown Social Club on Friday August 28 for Paces along with Leon Osborn and Moonbase Commander.