If you've heard some of the Harmonix-associated bands who've made it into Rock Band, you might assume that we spend all our time playing guitars, pumping our fists. And of course, you‘re right…up to a point. But this place is a hotbed of musicians, and our taste can get pretty far-ranging. Lots of us are into hip-hop, electronica, and other sounds that wouldn't fit so easily into the game.
Presenting Oxytocin, a fresh compilation of some of the more exotic music to come out of Harmonix. You'll hear a few guitars, but there's lots more: Socially conscious hip-hop, adventurous loop-and-sample tracks, soaring electronic pop, and then some. Most of all, you'll hear what happened when a few of our creative types looked around, bonded over their left-of-center tastes, and let the creativity flow. The title, by the way, refers to a chemical that music triggers in the human brain—nothing to do with that stuff they're stealing down the street.
And did we mention that it's free? Yes, we're doing our part to destroy the music industry by giving the entire compilation away. So download, explore and enjoy—and if you really love it and you're in Boston, come to our release party in June! You'll hear more about that in this roundtable interview, which features Oxytocin artists Caleb Epps (‘Leb), Naoko Takomoto (Nay), Kedaar Kumar, and Arthur Inasi (M-Cue), the man who put this all together.
Brett Milano: So Arthur, you were the mastermind behind this project. Tell me, what prompted you to put this thing together?
Arthur Inasi: We all work at Harmonix. We all work in different departments. We work on the audio team – me, Kedaar, Caleb and a producer. Basically, we work around a lot of rock music all the time. We all work on separate types of music - we do hip hop, we do electronic music, we do R&B. And that stuff never really gets represented within Harmonix, within the subcultures, so I wanted to find a way to show people that there is other stuff coming out of our studio. There is other types of music, and Oxytocin is a way for us to do that in a mixtape format.
BM: How did all of you find each other? How did you get connected?
AI: Like I said, we work together and we all share the same kind of musical interest and we feed off each other. We all listen to each other's music. We've gone to shows together. We play together in the practice space here at work. So it just seemed logical that we should get together and make a project, an album together using all our skills.
BM: Caleb, I believe you did some work in L.A. before coming here musically.
Caleb Epps: Yeah, I grew up here in Boston. I grew up about a mile-and-a-half from here in Cambridge, but I was out in L.A. for a couple of years and was part of a hip hop trio called The Click. That was sort of part of me being in grad school – I was at grad school at Cal Arts for electronic music composition. Me being in that program actually draws an analog to this, because doing hip hop as part of the program I was in out there was also not really doing the dominant musical genre. You had a bunch of kids out there that were doing circuit bending, and so there'd be these huge glitchy walls of noise and doing trance music-y kind of stuff, and doing a lot of really low sound level programming stuff and making all these systems. I do that as well, but I also grew up listening to hip hop and I love hip hop so much. It started [when] I was engineering a session for a bunch of friends of a friend at school. The session was finishing up and they were just freestyling and they [said], "Yo, get on in here. And so that's where two of us in The Click – me and my friend Derek - met up and we started working together and we decided, "Hey, why don't we do a project? So this group got formed and we did our thing in L.A. and were playing out in L.A. but then decided to come back home and started working here. Arthur kind of found me. Arthur: [laughs] You're right down the hall. You're not very hard to find.
BM: Naoko, some of the people that play the game have probably heard you in That Handsome Devil, so you have a bit of a double life, being a rock n' roller and an electronic person.
Naoko Takamoto: Yeah. I originally came to Harmonix to write and sing a song for Amplitude and my background's in more of R&B, I guess not hip hop, but electronic music. I tried that for a long time and I kind of put it aside and now I have the great pleasure of being in That Handsome Devil with people I respect very much creatively. I'm also – it's not exactly a "rock band, I guess rock band is kind of a stretch even though I don't know what we do. People keep asking me what genre our band is – I don't know, I'm sorry. [laughs]
BM: Psychobilly or something like that?
NT: I get weird. You know what, I get a lot of, "You guys are kind of like Kill Bill. Which I actually didn't know that Kill Bill was a musical genre. But I'll take it. [laughs] [It] sounds pretty badass.
BM: I thought it was a movie. [laughs]
CE: It was.
BM: So Kedaar, your track I love because it's so off the wall and such an interesting combination of things. You've got country-ish guitar and the samples. Tell me how that came about.
Kedaar Kumar: Well, I studied guitar as my principal instrument at Berklee and I played guitar for a while. Then for this song – I still love playing guitar, but while I was at Berklee, I went there to be a guitarist and halfway through my schooling I decided I liked electronic music a lot more. And I'm glad I made the decision to switch to studying synthesis, because then I could get into programming beats and doing sound design and all this kind of wacky stuff and processing. So I was sitting at home and I was plucking on my guitar and just came up with this riff. And originally the plan was for the song to be more country hip hop-ish, but with a beat still. I'm from Houston, Texas, so I wanted it to have some kind of roots and bridging. But it went into a different direction. But the title I had come up with…
BM: Which is a title that you can't say in Rock Band… KK: But you can say it everywhere else, even here! So I'm going to say it – "Country. [laughs]
BM: So-called, because? KK: It was just a shout-out to Texas, but then I kind of strayed away from my original idea musically. I just thought that the title was hilarious after the fact and thought it should stick. And once it made it on the comp, it made even more sense for it to stick, because it's not being released in the game and we can call it whatever we want. We can do what we want with this thing. It's from the underground, you know?
AI: That's the beauty of the project. It has nothing to do with what Harmonix does as a company, and the kind of music they represent. We're doing our own thing. This is outside of that. \ KK: And we rep'd it well. I think everybody did a nice job.
BM: Some people may recognize the samples on that track. Can you tell us what prompted you to use those? KK: It's just some vocal samples that I grabbed from Fantasia, and it's when the orchestra is tuning up so [it's] the announcer just talking about the whole project. About how it's all about the music. It's cool. I definitely thought that that's pretty fitting, because it's all about the music. And no matter what kind you're playing, what style you're doing or what's really going on. I mean as far as the Fantasia project was concerned, it was all about the music and the visuals and how they tie together, so I thought it was pretty fitting for this.
BM: Arthur and Caleb – you two did some tracks just jamming off each other's ideas together. How did that work out?
AI: It was great because we share certain views on certain things, and especially in those two songs.
CE: Totally, in terms of integrating politics and a certain relatively apocalyptic world view. [laughs]
AI: [laughs] Yeah, some downer stuff. But those two tracks are interesting because one of them – "Cams and Lights – is specifically about the work that Caleb did together on our games. But you'd have to really listen to it to figure out what we're trying to say. But it's a pretty angry song.
BM: So you hate the games? [laughs]
AI: I do not. No, I do not hate the games. They rule. They're the best games ever.
NT: I really enjoyed working with you two… [laughs]
AI: It was just a good way for us to let out some frustration. [laughs]
AI: Laugh it up…
BM: You don't hate it; you just wanted to write an angry song. [laughs]
AI: At least you know it's real. It's what we really think. "Say No is a more political song about injustices and saying no to that and not standing for it in a political sense.
CE: Yeah. I just think that involving politics in music – it's been going on forever. I think we wanted to make something that felt very – at least when we recorded it – very current. I think it's still new enough so that it still feels current. The "Cam and Lights song, we both really poured a lot of ourself into the camera direction. We worked on the camera direction and setting up all the shots and lighting and stuff like that – Arthur did basically the entire game of Rock Band, and I came on right after that game was finished to do download content and work on Rock Band 2 as well. I don't know. Sometimes when you pour a ton of yourself into something, sometimes you run up against brick walls, and it's a little frustrating sometimes. We put a lot of love into those songs – a lot of love.
BM: So Arthur, another of your tracks "Ludlow has an interesting story. Why don't you tell us what that is?
AI: "Ludlow's a track, actually the first track that was made for the project, before it was even a project. Chili [Harmonix IT guru] produced it. It's about me in a van in the middle of the woods, and I look up and see this light coming down and I realize it's like a spaceship. And the alien on the spaceship is like a black blues musician. He's disguised as a blues musician. And the reason he comes to Earth is that him and his species are outside of Earth and looking at us and realizing that we're in trouble and that we're destroying ourselves. And there's nothing they can do about it – they can't interfere. So he comes to Earth to sing blues for us because he feels that we're on a downward spiral. That's what the song's about. And Chili's beat is perfect for that [because] it's so out there.
BM: Naoko – I've been in this office with you for quite a while and I never knew you could sing like that.
NT: Thank you.
BM: You've been holding back on us. [laughs]
NT: I just don't tell everybody. [laughs] That's a weird thing for me to talk about now. [laughs]
BM: Interesting story, speaking of politics. You did a song about somebody that is not vice president but might have been.
NT: Yeah, it's about Sarah Palin. Actually what made me write it – I wrote it really quick, too – I was in Newbury Comics and saw a sticker that said "Palin 2012. And I was just like, "Oh no… [laughs]
NT: And that whole song just shot out. I had already given him [Arthur] the two songs when I was just [planning to] do two songs and be done. And I went and listened to a bunch of beats that he had given me and [thought] I could pop this out, let's go do it. It was really fun.
BM: And "Fail is your comment on the music business?
NT: It is. It's about how I don't want to listen to everybody's demos sometimes. It's stuff that I don't really have the balls to say to people's faces. Sometimes it's all, "Hey, listen to this, and it's just "Okay, sure. And that whole song just spins through my head every day. But I do listen to everything that everybody gives me and a lot of the time I'm proven wrong. So I don't actually mean it all the time, although sometimes I do.
BM: Let's tantalize people with the meaning of your other track.
NT: Oh, "Do It For Me? It's a fictional story about how I'm a dominatrix, because clearly I'm a dominatrix. [laughs]
NT: And I'm trying to get out of the life and trying to pass my client off to somebody else who can take care of, um, their needs. There you go. [laughs]
BM: I know that people are wondering, how can they get this collection and how much is it going to cost them?
AI: That's the thing – The whole album is going to be free, free download. We're going to put a site up – oxytocinmusic.com – where you're going to be able to go and download it for free. I just felt like it was a great way for Harmonix fans, Rock Band fans, people who know us, people who hang out at all our events and really good fans can take something away that's a little different from Harmonix to show that we do other stuff besides rock music behind the scenes. It's probably going to come out early May, late April. And we're gearing up right now because Kedaar set up a show at Middlesex that we're going to play on June 8th. If you want to break it down for them… KK: Yeah, so Monday June 8th, Middlesex Lounge here in Cambridge is where we're going to have our release – well, it'll be released before that – but it'll be the first place where people can come and see all the artists in one place and all the artists are going to perform, which is pretty rad. So it'll be not necessarily a reenactment of it, but it'll be pretty cool. Everybody can see all the artists there and meet them. And maybe we can have something to hook people up with.
AI: We're probably going to shoot video and get that up on the site and you can check that out.
CE: Yeah, it'll be cool. There'll be some visual entertainment and we'll be videotaping it.
AI: June 8th – Oxytocin show come through is free. KK: Be there.
BM: And download the music while you're at it.
AI: Please do.
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