This is the fourth release in a series of four albums based on the Seasons. Micky talks about the genesis of these compositions, surviving a tumultuous year, and what comes next.
It's a beautiful Spring day. The warm sun shines down, a cool breeze brushes the skin, the smell of fresh cut grass in the air. "This day has been a long time coming" Micky says as he leans down to tie his shoe. "Every Spring is a rejuvenation of sorts. It's always a breathtaking reset of nature and the mind, but even more so now given the year we've had."
What has this year taught you?
"That's hard to say. There are so many layers to all this, it'll probably take years to finally unravel this crazy ball of yarn. I suppose one lesson that, early on, became crucial to my psychological survival, is learning to make peace with things that are out of my control. There have been so many times in life that I've let situations, or people, take up a good chunk of my brain power. Things that I've carried, yet had no direct influence on their outcome. What a waste of energy. This year has given me the time to absorb that lesson and begin to apply it to other parts of my life."
Where and when did you get the idea for the Cycle series?
"Well, I'm an ideas guy. I always have 20, or so, ideas bouncing around in my head, but usually only have the time and capital to explore a few each year. The Season Cycles concept was a biggie from 5 or 6 years ago.
My kids were very young. I was a daytime dad and worked in my studio at night. It was a strange time filled with equal parts joy and hopelessness. Joy because I was experiencing the precious magic of parenthood. It's a humbling, grounding, and inspirational experience, you know, being responsible for tiny human beings. It's like growing a new limb on your body. The feels are intense. Hopelessness because my time and finances were spread incredibly thin. It felt like there was no way I'd ever escape this new hamster wheel existence, you kind of lose yourself for a few years.
But the ideas don't stop coming, and if I can't get to them, I'm overcome with an overwhelming, disabling feeling that I am drowning. Luckily I've been able to move past that stage, but I still have long to-do lists of ideas from that time, the Cycles were only one. The others will come in time."
Where did the idea come from?
"I can't remember a specific moment, or event that spurred conception. If anything, it was probably a subconscious interpretation of my experiences around that time. I've always been a bit of a workaholic. I thrive on being productive and staying active. For the ten years or so, before becoming a parent, I spent a lot of time touring with various musical artists. I eventually finished college and was beginning to build my studio business. Life was moving fast and I felt that it was moving in a direction I wanted it to go. Then bam! Parenthood hits and your previous life comes to a screeching halt.
That swift change creates a large space that you're not used to navigating. It's a somewhat disturbing shock to the system. And that new space inevitably gets filled with appreciation of the smaller things, not just children and their development, but you notice the birds in the trees again, you have time to appreciate when a good summer storm moves in, or just the changes of seasons. Then you're flooded with feelings from your own childhood that are attached to various milestones. Like the first snowfall of Winter, the first warm day of Spring, the first day of a new school year at the end of Summer, or playing in a large pile of leaves after a great fall. You get to experience the beauty of these things again through the eyes of a child. These experiences are foundational memories of any childhood. With these compositions, I wanted to explore the influence of the seasonal calendar as foundational backdrop in our human development, and all the feelings that come along with that."
“With these compositions, I wanted to explore the influence of the seasonal calendar as foundational backdrop in our human development, and all the feelings that come along with that.”
How did you begin this work? Did you have specific ideas going in?
"I've found, over the years, that I work most efficiently when I'm given limitations. With Go Go Torpedo, my limitations are the fact that I play drums with my feet while I play guitar and sing. We've done a few shows with a drummer over the years, but it's not the same. There's something empowering about only having a bass drum and snare drum to work with. The minimalist approach keeps the drum parts simple and driving, and creates sonic space for all the other instrumentation to pop out. For EVIL ZENITH, my limitation is the Bass VI. There's only so much you can do on that instrument, but that limitation is fertile soil for interesting ideas, and also gives space for the drum parts to breath and take center stage within the songs.
With the Cycles, the creative parameters I put on the project were that it would be all instrumental compositions. The one exception of all four albums being Harvest Moon, which features many layers of my voice harmonizing at the end of the track. I felt that was necessary to represent the sacred relationship mankind has with the Fall harvest season. Somewhat of a giving thanks to the majesty of the Earth and how it sustains the creatures that inhabit it.
Another limitation being, I could only use keyboard instruments like organ, piano, synths, marimba, vibes, accordion, etc.. for these compositions. The only exception being an occasional percussion track, but I'd only use my Rhythm Ace, which is a Japanese drum machine from the 60s. It has a very distinct 60s charm, which borders on comedic. That Can be heard on Jack O' Lantern.
But these limitations forced me to lean on other musical elements to fill the roles of the missing instrumentation. It makes for a fun challenge."
Can you be more specific on that?
"Um, I guess, using cyclical synth or piano parts to create a percussive drive. Using high and low registers, or layering varied textures to create a compositional arc. Or using dynamics to build tension. Probably the most important element, space. Space is a sadly underused and under-appreciated element in music production. Whenever something doesn't feel right in a recording session, the first thought is often what should we add, not what should we take away.
Really, I see that in all forms of media, even social media, it all requires maximization of space. Radio announcers, podcasters, Youtubers, they all feel the need to fill up every ounce of space. You can often hear the edits where they chop out the space and paste the dialogue so the speech practically overlaps itself.
There's a significant overuse of compression in modern recordings. If you think of an audio recording like a 3 dimensional box, there's a modern trend to fill all available spaces in that box instead of using the space in that box as a production tool. If you think of all the media we ingest on a daily basis, that need to fill all available space worms its way into our psyche and leaves us no room to think. We all need to put down the phones once in a while and embrace the silence."
“Space is a sadly underused and under-appreciated element in music production. Whenever something doesn't feel right in a recording session, the first thought is often what should we add, not what should we take away.”
That's an interesting observation. You care to expand on that?
"Ha, no... Old man rant over."
Can you cite specific musical influences for these compositions?
"You know, I was asked this question last Spring in an interview after the release of the Winter Cycle album and nothing came to mind. The concept behind this collection created such a large shadow, I couldn't really see past it at the time. Now having some distance from the project, there are definite influences, though most are not direct.
I always loved the synth parts in the 70s era Rush albums, and the synth hooks from bands like The Cars, or the gnarly sounding organ in Deep Purple, or the great driving percussive organ parts from Booker T and The MGs, or Ray Charles on a Wurlitzer, or the droning organ builds from soul great, Otis Redding.
A direct influence would be Die Forelle by Schubert, which translates to The Trout. In short, it's about an onlookers observation of a happy fish swimming in a river, only to be caught by a fisherman. While the singer tells the story, the musical accompaniment is bursting with descriptive emotion. At the beginning of the piece, the melody and cyclical rhythm in the piano sounds like a fish happily swimming, then when the fish is caught, the piano parts become dark and representative of the dying fish. It is quite beautiful.
I used similar trickery in some of these compositions, especially in Spring Cycle. The first track, Deliquesce, I use a descending harmonic major scale to represent the icicles melting. The notes move with increasing speed until eventually resolving in a freeing D major chord. In Dissonance and Turbulence, I use rhythm and layering to build tension, representing the entrance of the great storms of Spring. There are plenty of others, but you can find those yourself. That's part of the fun of listening."
What about in Autumn Cycle?
"There are a few examples there as well. The most obvious being The Great Fall. The leaves fall sparsely at the beginning of the season, but eventually the various species pick up speed in a timed fashion. The piano melody does a similar thing. I also intentionally used a 3/4 time signature, that of a Waltz, to represent the dancing of the leaves in the wind as they fall to the ground."
Was it hard to find inspiration during a pandemic?
"Yes and no. I'm motivated by the ideas in my mind and those are very insular. But trying to raise a family, keep the bills paid, and keep my business alive, all during a pandemic, is definitely a stressful existence. If anything, having these projects to focus on probably helped ease the stress from the other adult responsibilities."
What else do you have going on at the moment?
"At the top of that list is a recent album release of another project of mine called EVIL ZENITH. It's a cool collection of tunes that I wrote specifically for the drummer, Skitch. And he tears up that album. I'm quite proud of it. Now that things are starting to open up, we'll be playing a handful of shows to celebrate that release. Making that album was another great distraction from the horrors of 2020.
I still teach weekly music lessons at my studio in Rockford, IL, and I have few recording client projects coming up that I'll be producing in the coming weeks. I really missed collaborating with others this last year, so I'm excited to get to work on those."
What's next for Micky Torpedo?
"Oh, man. In the short term, I was commissioned by Sinnissippi Audubon to create compositions based on bird songs from the region where I live. I just recently secured the bird song samples from Cornell Lab of Ornithology and will begin work on that this week. I'm super excited about this project.
I hope to begin working on the next Go Go Torpedo album this summer, and I'd like to coordinate that album release with a clothing line based on the Go Go Torpedo artwork, which is just some of Joe Tallman's many great creations. He's a phenomenal visual artist from the Rockford area. His art is such an important part of the Go Go Torpedo experience.
I've got a few other music projects up my sleeve that may or may not come together this year, but fact that it's a possibility gives me much hope for the coming year, and the future, in general."
Where can people pick up your music and merchandise?
How can fans connect with you?
Any last words?
"Um, well, if you made it this far into my interview, I thank you for sticking it out."
#Alternative, #Indie, #Ambient, #DarkAmbient, #Instrumental, #Keyboards, #Piano, #Organ, #Synth, #Synthesizers, #Marimba, #Vibes, #Wurlitzer, #RhythmAce, #Seasons, #Winter, #Spring, #Summer, #Autumn, #Fall #SinnissippiAudubon, #Audubon, #CornellUniversity
Dana E.K. is a staff writer for Black Squirrel Underground and Underground Squirrel Studio.
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