Chipmusic, chiptune, whatever you want to call it, is a big draw for us retrogamers and I’m pleased to say that I caught up with my favourite chiptune band of the moment – 8 Bit Weapon! Seth & Michelle are based in LA (we’re already jealous! – Ed) and their ambient tracks have us smitten as well as their earlier more poppy stuff. Don’t let my lack of chiptune knowledge spoil your enjoyment of this great interview…
Your band 8 Bit Weapon makes music via retro computers and consoles. We’ve discussed this at Arcade Attack and we’ve no idea how you would go about it! Firstly, how did you both get into this type of music creation and secondly, how on earth do you do it?
8 BIT WEAPON: We both grew up playing video games on the Commodore 64, NES, Game Boy and other systems of the 80s and 90s.
SETH: In 1998 I rediscovered my Commodore 64 and found emulation software on the internet. I also discovered there were sound chip emulators that allowed you to play just the music from your favorite computers and consoles! I then began remixing my favorite Commodore 64 game music in a program called ACID. Then I began acquiring actual hardware that allowed me to use the Commodore 64, Nintendo Entertainment System, Atari 800 and more as MIDI modules. That’s when 8 Bit Weapon became solidified and I made original chipmusic from scratch from then on.
MICHELLE: When I discovered in 2004 that people were making original chipmusic and performing it live, it really called out to me. I initially got into chipmusic when I was looking for new and different bands in Los Angeles. I saw 8 Bit Weapon playing in Hollywood and that’s when I went to my first chip show. I fell in love with the whole genre! Within weeks of meeting Seth, he gave me LSDJ (Little Sound DJ) for the Game Boy and it gave me access to writing every aspect of a song on one platform. I carried my Game Boy in my purse and wrote my first album on it for my solo band which I called ComputeHer. I then joined forces with Seth and we started writing and performing together as 8 Bit Weapon shortly thereafter.
I really like your new album “Disassembly Language: Ambient Music For Deprogramming Vol 1” (which our readers can access here), takes me back to my University days (better stop there!) – what made you choose ambient and how long did the album take to complete?
We have been fans of iconic artists such as Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Brian Eno, and Tangerine Dream. We wanted to do an all Commodore 64 album with no other devices. The SID chip is the only 8 bit sound chip that allows you to synthesize like you would on a classic analogue synth.With that in mind, we had all we needed to craft an ambient synth odyssey. The result was “Disassembly Language: Ambient Music for Deprogramming Vol. 1”. We crafted over 1 hour of unique original music!
Of the four “phases”, which is your favourite?
Every single one is completely different and we love them all so It’s impossible to answer, truly!
You’ve done a lot of live shows over the last 16 years, how does playing a C64 chipset (for example) compare to playing a keyboard or guitar? Do you sequence the notes beforehand?
When we first started playing shows live, we used a Commodore 64 with the Commodore branded Music Maker cart and Music Maker Keyboard overlay. We also have added our Apple ii Digital Music Synth to our live set up. We also often use Game Boys, NES and the rare Commodore SX-64 which is a “portable” C64 with a built in disk drive and a mini color monitor. We have always used PC & Mac laptops to run our backing tracks. The only difference in our studio from the gear mentioned in our live set are the following: We use the SID Station which is a C64 sound chip in a MIDI controllable module, the Ensoniq Mirage Digilogue Synthesizer/Sampler, Amiga 500 and 1200, Atari 2600 and 800xl, etc.
I can see that you’ve played a few gigs over here in England. What are British crowds like in comparison to over there in the States?
Crowds in England are always more energized and dance way more than audiences in the USA, by a large margin. We live in LA, aka “The entertainment capitol of the world” – Everyone here is jaded and has seen it all and has the “I could do that” attitude. UK & Europe as a whole always have the best reception to our shows, every time! (woohoo! – Ed)
How would a complete novice get into “chiptune”? And what are your top-tips?
S: I’d say try to get some midi/audio recording/editing software like Ableton and a simple piano style controller. Ableton has many presets included to get the songwriting started. Next, think about what system do you identify most with? What did you grow up with and google what midi/sequencing options are available for it. Each computer/console has it’s own unique sound personality. Watch youtubes of different music from each system to find the sound that strikes a chord with you personally and go from there.
M: For hardware I originally started with the Game Boy and LSDJ, both are relatively easy to acquire. I have a basic tutorial for them on my YouTube channel if you are curious. For software and for something easier, I would try using 8 bit loops like “A Chiptune Odyssey” and also Plogue’s Chipsounds softsynth.
Which retro computer/console is the most fun to make music with?
Commdore 64, NES, and Gameboy are the 3 best and are the most fun for us. Plus each still has it’s own unique soundscape palette.
What is your favourite retro game music and who do you take inspiration from? (It’s gotta be Streets of Rage and Yuzo Koshiro for us :))
Maniac Mansion for NES & C64, zac mccracken C64, Metroid NES, All NES Castlevanias, Mule C64, Adventure Construction Set C64, Times of lore C64, and Ultima 3-5 for C64.
I’m assuming/hoping you’re both massive retro gamers. What was your first console/computer and best memories of it?
M: My brother is who got me into using computers because he had a C64 and would let me play games on it. I used to love play Little Computer People for hours when I was little. My brother eventually got an Amiga 500 and gave me his C64 and all the games for it too, of course (nice! – Ed).
S: My neighbor Oscar had one and I’d spend countless hours watching him play his, especially Adventure Construction Set by EA. He was playing on a Commodore 64. Hearing the music and watching the graphics etc, I had to get one. I begged my Dad to get my brother and I one and after a year of begging we got one.
8-bit or 16-bit?
What does the future hold for 8 Bit Weapon and have you guys any plans to see us over here in the UK?
M: Aside from eventually releasing Volume 2 of Disassembly Language for 8 Bit Weapon, I have a new album coming out in the next couple of months called “The SIDuction of ComputeHer”. The album will feature about 9 tracks and really shows off what I can do with a Commodore 64’s SID chip.
S: We also just launched a subscription program for our music via bandcamp. People can subscribe for 1 year at a time and get all of our albums plus all of Michelle’s solo work too. Plus they get any new releases we make for that year of their subscription as well!
8BW: We hope to return to the UK & Europe in the next couple of years!
We really hope to see you soon guys! A last question before you head off, if you could go for a few drinks with any video game character, who would you choose and why?
S: Roger Wilco from Sierra On-line’s Space Quest series. I’ve loved my hilarious 6+ adventures with him and would love to know what he’s been up to since!
M: Zac McCracken, because we go way back! 😉
Hee hee! Thanks for your time guys, was really great catching up with you and we wish you all the best of the future! Check out 8BW’s official site here, Michelle’s youtube site here, the Bandcamp subscription channel here and also follow them on twitter.