Interview with Mattias Holmgren - composer of Luminati
So, first of all, tell us a little about yourself.
Hi. I was born in Sweden 1978, grew up playing the piano and did tons of hours behind the drumkit. Released my debut album at age 17 with the band Naglfar, ”Vittra”, in 1995 which immediately got international success in the metal-scene. After that I continued releasing albums with my own band Embracing (which we formed in 1992) and also jumped in on various bands and projects as a session drummer, vocalist, keyboard-player or producer. I have played in the studio with quite a few bands like; Azure, Skyfire, Nocturnal Rites and live with bands like Supreme Majesty etc. In 2002 I released my first solo album under the name ”Tired Tree”, it was a soft pop-rock album, some weird mixture of Marillion and Chicago, very different from the early metal stuff with roaring guitars. It was a bit of a turn towards the more classical music which felt more alluring than the rock/metal I had played for 10 years.
What was your first musical experience or recollection?
The first recollection I have of actually playing an instrument is from my childhood home when we had a white piano in the living room which me and my siblings (two brothers and one sister) were playing at. My first memory of hearing a melody is a bit blurred, but somehow a strong memory is hearing the ELO, Abba and Elton John albums which my parents were listening to while I was a kid. The Muppet Show and Benny Hill signature melodies also ring a strong bell. *laughs* Also the classical music which played at the TV channels when no specific program was broadcasting, and on the classical radio channels was a strong influence when I was a kid. I also got a small tape-recorder when I was 10 which was kinda hot.
When and why did you decide to go into music industry?
I guess I was thrown into the music industry at a quite young age, but I think it was a good experience. After working with record labels, playing tons of shows and working in the studio I realized the writing and producing of the music was my strong skill and what I also liked the most about the whole process. For every album we did, I wrote more and more of the songs and also started producing. It was around 2002 after releasing my first solo album I decided to take the step and start my own company, Morningdew Media.
Since I’ve always been interested in the sound and music of games since playing Nintendo 8-bit (and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum) I wanted to focus on writing songs for media, games and film. It is very rewarding to write for specific clients, projects and products. It also makes the writing so variated, since no project is the other alike. These last few years I have written music and done sound design for commercial projects courtesy of IKEA, BRIO AB, Fishermans´s Friend and alot of interesting game projects for this exploding iPhone, iPad market.
We heard you had big experience in stage performance with Swedish rock and metal bands. Tell us more about that. Does this experience help you in creation of game, trailer or movie music?
Yeah, my early career was full of rock/metal bands and playing shows and festivals like Sweden Rock Festival, Tivolirock, Stadsfesten etc. I guess the heavy music gave me a rhythmic base to build upon.
Now when I work with music for media projects, a little now and then I throw in some heavy guitars, or distorted bass with cool rhythms to get this huge effect and impact, like in the audio branding (audio logo) for the company Ice Game Studios:
But in general I think the most helpful ”tool” I have for writing and producing trailer, game and film music is the classical piano background (and listening extensively to ELO and ABBA... haha). I guess the interest for rhythms comes from the metal background, and the melodies comes from the more classical music.
Tell us about your studio hardware, software and of course instruments.
The standard studio must of course be flooded with hardware, flickering lights and instruments to bring a certain vibe of inspiration to the artist. *grin* To be honest I got rid of alot of hardware mixers and outboard gear and now I mostly work with just my Mac Book Pro, a small Mackie mixer and a tube amp. I was a PC user for many years, it was always a problem to get the correct hardware to work with the soundcards etc. PC is really a pain in the a** compared to the MAC.
After switching to MAC I have never had any problemes regarding glitches, pops and crackles which was the daily basis of fiddling with the PC. While switching the MAC I also started using Logic and I was suprised how good the soft synths that came with Logic sounds. Just amazing what you can do with the basic package, very inspiring. Then I am also a huge fan of Zebra and of course the powerful Omnisphere and RMX, which are used in the majority of my new productions. I still use Cubase, Pro Tools and Ableton Live in some situations, but most of the time it’s just Logic.
Regarding instruments, I am a greedy collector...and user.
There have been plenty of instruments added the last couple of years. I think the only instruments I ever got rid of was my first drumkit, a LINKO kit, which sucked bigtime. Oh, and a Ibanez SAS36FM guitar which had some defects. The second drumkit I bought in 1995, a gorgeous Pearl Master Custom drumkit which I have kept and still play on a regular basis. Though I think I play it more with brushes today than with the sticks. haha. It’s perfect for action cues and thrilling themes to play the kit with brushes.
Most of the cues for tv/film today are very percussive oriented (alot less melodic content) than in the 80, 90s. If you listen to CSI, other thriller series and games you see what I mean. That is the quality the customers expect today, so it’s very fun to have alot of real percussions and drumkit around to work with.
Aside from the kit I have a Yamaha Piano, plenty of woodwind instruments and percussion from Asia and middle-eastern. 5 acoustic and electronic guitars, an awesome electronic drumkit from Heart-Dynamics, bass guitars, Line-6 stuff, Fender and HiWatt amps. I also sample my own voice on many themes, to fatten up choirs or maybe create percussive sounds with my mouth. Just alot of creative fun! =)
You have plenty of instruments in your collection. Can you master them all?
Well I am not a master of all instruments but I can make them all sound. *laughs* A woodwind instrument like the Bawu has a quite narrow scale so you have to work with bends and the tongue technique to bring the tones to life, it is challenging but very fun and rewarding. You just have to open your mind and get inspired by other players...and you tube.
Percussion is percussion you know, so if you are a drummer it’s not that different to bash on a darbuka or bongo. I played with a really good guitarist in my band Embracing, and I learnt alot of guitar techniques by looking at his fingering and listening. And if you have the string technique of a guitar it’s not that hard to learn how to play a fretless bass, it’s all about listening and finding pitch. Then it’s not that far to get going on a violin.
It is also very different to make the instruments sound for your specific idea, and for your specific song than it is to really master an instrument. I guess I can say I master the drums and the piano, but for the other instruments I just achieve the necessary for my tracks. It’s not really necessary to be a instrumental master as a composer, but rather to learn how to achieve the tones and qualities that you are after for your ”sound” and ”songs”.
Like on some songs I play a bass with a small stone to achieve a haunting fretless sound where the tone bends inbetween the scaletones. It’s just a matter of fantasy and inspiration, I also like to play percussion on the acoustic guitar body, and to tap overtones on the electric guitar.