a_phake is Trinidadian musician, singer-songwriter, vocalist and producer Ravi Maharaj. In 2007 he started experimenting with electronic music after almost a decade in the fringe of the indie rock scene. The use of live instruments during performances, including Indian drumming, lends a different energy to the usual EDM (electronic dance music) DJ scene. In 2010 he became the first live artist to perform at a rave in Trinidad. I got linked with him through his Outlish Magazine article, a great starting point for many of us (thanks Karel). See more of his story there!
Aiming to challenge himself to make and produce music that is memorable, emotionally appealing, original in approach, yet mysterious, a_phake manages to do work that others may be afraid of doing. He's got his own style and a unique creative voice. Recent collaborations with other musicians/producers help to further amp up his creativity.
This week a_phake has chosen to share a little about Friday Night, a song that has a wide range of diverse remixes, all of which are just as slick as the original. Perhaps the word is schmexy. I am squealing with excitement that he's created a special acoustic version of his popular song, Friday Night and I'm quite honoured to have it officially debuting here (other than YouTube).
TC: What is the prettification process like?
RM: After I put down a rough sketch of the vocal melody, the piano motif, some pads and bass, I implemented the chord changes I wanted for the different sections of the song - the structure. Then I picked out some of the garbled non-sense i was singing an formed the gist of the lyrics. After tightening up the song I made a decision to go for something as commercial as possible while not only staying true to myself, but doing something cool and fun with the vocals.
I was looking for ideas when around that time i started listening to Skrillex. I got the idea for the chopped up vocals with their song "Nice Sprites and Scary Monsters". I tightened up the lyrics in post-production, paying attention to the target market (teenagers). I purposely changed the lyrics for the chorus from "Words to rock me" to "Girls to rock me" just to make it more appealing directly to them. This was my first experiment with the much maligned autotune (Logic's pitch correction actually). I did many processes with the production of the track itself - trying out sidechain compressing with the drums and bass; sidechain gating with the pads and guitars. I really wanted it to be very interesting musically so I took a while to put in all the little details. The part in the middle where I filtered out everything and dropped it back in was the icing on the cake. I was like "ok if that doesn't keep their attention then they're not alive to begin with."
TC: How do you know when to stop / when is the piece done?
RM: With this piece I had a fairly good idea about the impact I wanted it to have. Through research and experimentation I eventually got to a place where I felt satisfied enough; where nothing else I added brought further value to it or made a difference with the original impact I envisioned. That doesn't always happen though. There are projects sitting on my hard drive that are still sorta waiting for the bus..
TC: Have a favourite Friday Night version?
RM: Because they all stand so well on their own and are all so different in mood I can't compare or have a favourite. I think they're all really solid actually and I must thank all the remixers on a job that surpassed my expectations.
TC: Are you planning more remixes of this song?
RM: No. Unless Nicky Minaj wants to ride it. Anybody out there can make the hook up?
TC:You're one of the folks with a day/regular job and your creativity is reserved for after hours. How do you deal with burnout?
RM: Well I’ve never had the luxury of a creative burnout. Only the regular “no extra cheese” burnout that comes from attempting to manage multiple aspects of my life. This fatigue continues to affect me creatively to the extent that it’s sort of shaping my creative identity.
Look I don’t accept having to shaft the creative side of me but while looking to improve upon my lifestyle, I’m kinda observing, learning a lot about the role and character of the Half Dead (HD) music producer. As a matter of fact he’s making an appearance at my next show.
I have to be very efficient now with how I manage the various aspects of my musicality. I’ve locked off performing for the while because that in itself is an art form and I don’t want to do it unless I can dedicate the time to doing it right. I don’t wanna be contributing to the mediocrity of live shows in Trinidad. Too many local rock bands on bad PA systems are already doing that.
So how do I deal with it?
Well, exercise, except when I’m feeling depressed (ironic isn’t it?), a walk in the wilderness, a long weekend by the beach or nature resort with a book and some friends. Gosh I need some friends. A mild hallucinogen every now and again seems to do the trick at recalibrating my system…
You know on second thought all this makes things sound so “oh i’ve got everything under control”. That’s one thing I hate about interviews. Artists and editors always end up painting the picture in such a way. But me, I don’t have anything under control. My creative life is in complete turmoil. I want badly to take an extended hiatus from all things music to deal with introducing myself to a new lifestyle - but it hurts because I have all these things I want to do so badly in the next few months, some to which I’ve already committed. My friend Gerard will say that my ego has taken control over me. I don’t know. I don’t believe in fully taming the ego.
TC: What's your creative support network (CSN) like?
RM: It’s important to define what exactly a Creative Support Network is and its purpose and it's a highly subjective thing. Some people’s idea of a CSN is just to feel secure, drink with their buddies and feel vindicated in their opinions and lot in life. Others thrive on people "liking" their social networks posts and then go take a piss.
To me the concept feels fairly non-existent in my life. I say this without at all thinking that I’ll be offending any of my friends and fellow collaborators because of what I want out of it. I know I have a long way to go. This year alone I decided to reach out as much as possible to other artists/producers and as such I am only now slowly building a network of people I work with. These are relationships we’re talking about here. That takes time.
In the meantime I’m really grateful for guys like CK and Baidawi with whom I’ve spent a valuable time just playing and discussing music. I remember the first time I stepped into the Bomb Shelter to try singing some of QD’s lyrics (never did that before as I usually write my own). Man I felt like a real artist! I couldn't stop telling people about it!
A CSN consists of a few highly skilled, imaginative individuals who have formed their own approach to music and the creative process. These people should be folks you feel comfortable around, to be yourself and express your ideas about a project at hand or something in general. It's the people you go to when you want to bounce an idea around, to get things rolling, to get it out. Someone who will take you seriously, people that bring out the best in you, who make you feel comfortable with being creative, expressive and stupid. Of course it allows you to give that support to them.
I was researching the Michael Jackson Thriller video because I wanted to make a reference to it in a song, and I stumbled upon a conversation Michael was having with the director. They were discussing/trying out approaches, processes and techniques that would make dancing zombies appear awesome and uber cool instead of hilarious. After reading this I see the massive importance of having such a network on a professional level. In that way art becomes the biggest winner.
You don't want your CSN to become a comfort zone because you then are liable to create to please people. It's great having associates and all but finding your own voice and developing your process is what's important at the end of the day. It’s what you must fight for the most. Sometimes your own mentors may be the ones holding you back without you realizing it. My girlfriend has a way of blurting out “Look ah not takin this shit” every now and again. It’s a kind of self actualizing non-shit acceptance mechanism that gets triggered when the world tries to dupe her creative side. It’s something I think we as artists need to develop. Keenly.
TC: How have you overcme a big obstacle in your creative life?
RM: Becoming/Being taken seriously as a vocalist:
I was always the quietest shyest kid around and it was always very hard for me to command a place as a vocalist – a role people usually see as the “leader/cunt” of a band. I was never really a cunt so it took a while to develop my skills there but when I was alone and felt comfortable, I would open my mouth and sing. I would practice a lot and most importantly put feeling into what I was doing. When opportunities came to showcase my vocal/writing skills (those two were always inseparable to me) and I felt I was in a supportive environment, I took them. I had two friends who were incredibly kind, patient and encouraging with me. They believed in me and I’m not talking about someone who would just have nice words to say. I mean people who would stick by you year after year after year and never fail to see the potential in you. I’ve been blessed to have superior musician/artist friends who would bear with me like that.
TC: (There's part of your CSN Ravi!)
RM: Figuring out how to write songs:
In my early stages as a songwriter, most importantlywas my sense of rejecting my own mediocrity. I was never satisfied with what I produced. For years I tried and failed to write songs I was happy with. They were always un-catchy and moronic. I tried writing on many instruments besides the guitar – piano, drums, harmonica, violin and mandolin – just to say "I’m trying a different palette here, a different medium." That didn’t really work. I tried alternative tunings. I then decided to take myself out of the equation. Change the Process. Composing lyrics, vocal melody, song structure and harmony while at the same time playing the instrument just seemed too limiting, un-exciting and difficult for me. I needed to record and play back what I was doing, take it in and build on top of that. Give my imagination some breathing space. Hence my switch to using Digital Audio Ware and programs like Reason and Garageband.
TC: Can you share some advice on creativity - developing/creating/sharing?
RM: My friend Lyndon recently told me something that helped so I’ll pass it on. I was asking him for advice on managing multiple projects as I am challenged with managing at least 7-8 different projects at a time. He said that to get through a piece, you must determine and realize that there is a process for dealing with it. So if I have multiple projects to manage, they may all require different processes or may all use the same one! It’s up to me to find my own process.
It takes a while to settle into and find that zone so the last thing I want at that critical moment is a distraction - someone calling you or some shit, or just social media addiction. Eliminating distractions is very important but it can be a tough thing to do. Creating always stems from working within limits, necessity being the mother of invention and all. That's how I operate; I suck at her nipples.
As for sharing, well there are different ways to share. It’s hard for a guy like me to share, not because I’m selfish but because I’m a perfectionist. I don’t wanna be made to feel like I could have done better when I'm the one who knows that the most.
If you’re trying to establish yourself and don’t share, people forget about you and that’s hard. It’s not always about sharing a product. Sometimes it’s about sharing your thoughts. Right now I am focusing on becoming a better writer not in terms of songs but in terms of blogging. It’s important to appeal to and communicate with people on that level. Not only can it present new opportunities but also new ways of being creative. Now count the number of times the word “creative” was used in this piece. Then divide it by the number of times the word “shit” was used. What’s the answer? Be creative.
Find him and his music at Facebook, Myspace and ReverbNation.