Interview - Badlands
By Joey Edsall
Joey Edsall was born and raised near Scranton, Pennsylvania. He has always immersed himself in art, being an avid fan of film and music.
Badlands debut album Locus drops on April 15th, but I was lucky enough to listen to it ahead of time. Trust me, it's going to be huge. You can listen to her song "Echo" on our YouTube channel. I had the opportunity to ask the talented Swede a few questions. You can read her answers below!
Within the first minute of "Ballady", the opening track of your upcoming album, Locus, that Badlands is something very different from a lot else on the scene. There's a real focus on mood and emotionally cathartic moments. Was there a conscious decision to create something this different or did it just happen?
Nothing in my music making process is conscious or calculated, it all just happens. Sudden harmonies and pictures appear in my head like capsuled little moments or revelations, and from there I walk in to the studio and try to communicate that exact feeling, somehow. There and then, I don't have a recipe on how to achieve it - but I won't stop until I manage to recall that emotion again. Sometimes that process takes just a couple of weeks, sometimes several months.
It’s interesting that you should mention "Ballady" along with that description, because sometimes the revelation changes within the process too. Someone I know lost her son during the making of this record, which of course was extremely hard and emotionally cathartic. I thought a lot about to where we can turn our prayers in situations like these, when we don't believe in a man made God.. Hence "Ballady" became a cosmic lullaby for that child and some kind of plea to the universe. That was all I had at the time, all I could do.
Speaking of how delightfully strange this album is (in the best way!), what genre would you call it? Feel free to make up a ridiculous genre name! I'd call it post-dream-ambiwave.
Some kind of dusky, interstellar dreamwave maybe? Post-dream-ambiwave is pretty cool too haha, even though I’m striving to make something new. It feels really weird trying to put a genre to it in a retrospective, but I understand why people feel they need to.
What initially got you interested in creating music?
I became interested in music early, like 11-12 years old, and listened a lot to post-hardcore, shoegaze and stuff, alongside new wave and synth, throughout my teenage years. But even though I hung out with people in bands, I felt very curtailed playing myself. I never found my place really, and in the small Swedish town where I’m from, if you didn’t play guitar, bass or drums in a band - there was no other way. But then I discovered there are other ways, and that’s when I started to produce music without realizing myself.
We had a quite progressive music teacher in high school, who taught some of us how to use midi and sampling with an AKAI S3000. He let me borrow one of those 8 channel portable studios over the weekends, and that way I could hide out and explore in my own pace. I think that was my ticket out of status quo. I experienced a big relief, independence and freedom in creating electronic music, or semi-electronic would be more correct to say. And that’s how it all started. It took many years though before my music became anything else than hundreds of nameless soundtracks on a harddrive, along with some failed attempts to form a band.
But in the end, I think most people start creating music because they’re missing something, and noone will be able to make that music but themselves. That’s how Badlands was born for me anyway.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
I wouldn’t call it influence, because I certainly don’t try to sound like anything - but to me there’s no better sound in the world than a fuzzy arpeggio on vinyl. A lot of stuff that inspires me is either from the 70’s or early 80’s, even though I wasn’t born then. People that lead on new wave, before it even became a concept. I romanticize around the times when too much was never enough, and how music makers didn’t seem to compromise as much with their work as many of us do today. It was totally cool to play 5-6 minute long songs on the radio, melody and mood guided production and there was a smoldering reassurance in the sounds. Some kind of sane bravado and belief in the future which we lack today, that I gladly let myself get infected by. Tangerine Dream, Aphrodite’s Child, Throbbing Gristle, Richard Barbieri, Art of Noise, Simple Minds, Fleetwood Mac, Freur, Talk Talk, Units, Tubeway Army, New Order.. Stuff like that.
Are you influenced by anything non-musical, like film, art, or literature?
Not initially in a record or tune making process. It all comes from inside and I even hide from external impression. But at a later stage when the music is there and it’s time to represent what’s it it and help people approaching it, then other stuff comes in. On Locus for example, I was very inspired by photographers such as Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Gregory Crewdson alongside early Spielberg movies and such, when trying to figure out the visual representation. Wouldn't have happened without my friend and talented photographer Rickard Grönkvist, who created the cover photo for Locus. So in a way it does influence the music, sure, even if it is in a retrospect.
The synths used on the album would make any gear nerd freak out. What was your favorite synth to use?
I like most synths with the slightest bit of character, and I'm a real pragmatic in that sense. They don't have to be super cool and vintage to sound good and work inspiring, although a good bit of that kind appears on Locus. My partner in crime is my Nord Lead 2x, simply because the possibilities are endless once you get to know it inside out. There's nothing you can't do with it, and it sounds amazing. There’s alot of Juno 60 on the record though. My fave part was to hook it up to a drum-trigger, making that Vangelis like sound when you hit it. I really like hooking up synths to stuff it’s not supposed to be hooked up with, in general. Make happy mistakes. However - if I was to get a new vintage synth right now it would be the Oberheim OB12. Should've gotten it years ago, I find myself trying to imitate it an awful lot.
What was your favorite piece of software to use while producing Locus?
I only ever record, edit and mix in Pro Tools, it’s just part of me. Of course I use a lot of plug-ins too, but they’re my secret.
What is your songwriting process like?
Very scattered - songwriting and production means the same to me. I write while producing and produce whilst writing, I’ve never made a demo in my life. But it usually starts with a transient melody that flares up in my mind. It only ever stays for a few seconds, so if I don’t have my phone or other quick recording equipment nearby it’s lost forever. But if I manage to catch it, I figure out the harmonies and stuff on my giant reverberating haunted monster piano. After that I bring it in to the studio, and then it’s just a big chaos for weeks, sometimes months, of me trying out different stuff. Record, sample, build sounds, arpeggios, record acoustic stuff just to replace them with samples and vice versa, changing melodies, hating myself for even trying etc. And then one day, it all starts making sense again, and then I know I’m close and it was all worth it after all. 90% of the writing process is a nightmare, but the 10 remaining % is my crack.
While the album features a handful of very talented musicians accompanying you, this is an album that you wrote, recorded, and produced entirely on your own. Do you enjoy writing music in a solitary way like this, or do you prefer collaborations?
It’s an independence thing. Inspiration can't wait for band meetings, rehearsals, cancellations and other delays. So when ideas comes to me, I want to start working with them straight away, whenever I want, and without having to compromise with anything. That’s why I do everything myself, and that’s how it all started. Years ago when I had all these ideas but nobody to help me with the tunes, I slowly learned how to produce myself instead. And once you have your ways, that’s how you roll. Collaborations are great, but Badlands will always remain a solo project. But for the next record I wish to use external musicians to a larger extent though, and in a more organized way. Because it adds so much, opens doors you didn’t know existed. Even when you don’t keep the recorded material, it can work as reassurance. We’ll see what happens.
If you could collaborate with any artist right now, regardless of genre, who would it be?
Probably something as far away from myself as possible, genre-wise. Like classical composer Zbigniew Preisner for example, he’s incredible and quite unconventional. And we both share the conviction on the importance of melody in music. His melodies sound like nothing else. I never think about these kind of things, but to collaborate with him would actually be super cool, now that you ask.
Which song on Locus are you most proud of?
You Have Taught Me So much, because that’s the only song that I finished writing before I started to record it. Made me feel as if I learned something. And it’s a pretty defined love song. I usually don’t write those.
Why did you pick "Echo" and "Caramisou" as singles for the album?
I think a single should represent the overall sound and work as a help for the listener to approach the album. That’s why I choose those two - they’re representative, and pretty catchy. And I kind of look at them as Yin & Yang - a good and an evil twin, one on each shoulder.
Where did the title of Locus come from?
The word Locus holds two meanings - the genetic term is that Locus is a specific location on a DNA sequence/chromosome that holds information about the gene. But it can also mean a location or place, in general. I thought that the term reflected the vibes of the tunes quite well, because the record is alot about identity and integrity in sudden moments and encounters. How you find yourself in a place or situation, and about how much power we have over who we are and decisions we make in that specific situation.
What does the future hold for Badlands?
More records, more tunes, for sure. I’ve already started to get itchy even before the album is out. My phone is full of audio memory notes and I can’t wait to get started on them. But this year my main focus will be on performing Locus.