Independent musician, producer, synthesizer aficionado and friend of Audient, Jasper (aka Shook) recently discovered that his track, Always had inspired NASA astronaut, Christina Koch whilst she had been in space. So much so, that she learnt it on keyboard to play for her husband via a video call to earth as a surprise for their anniversary.
We figured it had been a while since we’d caught up, so we had to ask him about that. We also chatted about collaborating in another language, his bathroom acoustics, how serious illness changed his perspective, his first foray into producing his own synth sample kit and relistening to favourite 80s albums.
First things first: what about his current studio setup?
I actually just did a big studio re-organization! At the heart of my studio is the ASP880 8-channel mic preamp and iD22 audio interface, which I have been using for years now. I couldn’t be without these two. I record everything through these preamps which do amazing things to the sound. It’s quite essential when recording a lot, whether it be synths, drums or recording vocals.
They give me the best results in my very straightforward recording chain. Sometimes there will be some effect units between the instruments I want to record, but I like to keep things really quick and easy.
How is your synth collection coming along – is it still growing?
I think I would probably lie to myself if I would say that ‘this is it’ in terms of synths! I must admit that not all synths get used daily, and there are just a few that I keep close by, depending on the project I am working on.
iD22 & ASP880: “I couldn’t be without these two”
A few very special ones are the Polymoog 203A and a very early digital synthesizer called the DK Synergy MKI, these are very unique in sound. Lately I have been using the Roland Juno 60 and Yamaha DX-7 a lot again. I couldn’t miss my Yamaha CP70B electric grand too, it has such a marvellous sound when I mix the acoustic sound of it with its direct line sound.
It’s not all vintage though, I am a big fan of Dave Smith’s Sequential synthesizers. The recent Prophet X has been a big part of some of my new music.
Where are you finding inspiration at the moment?
Recently I am re-listening to my favourite 80s albums again. So the producer in me is studying the recording techniques and learning as much as I can from that era. I am definitely romanticising the gear and the sounds they made from that era. The sounds alone evoke such a strong nostalgia. It is very powerful in music when used right.
“I try to find a healthy balance between the gear and the music”
Looking back, it wasn’t about the gear alone, it was about the songwriting, the attitude and musicianship. I think in many ways, back in the day producers were restricted by technology, which helped them to be more creative. Today we have too many options, which can make us less creative. I believe you get creative by having a certain kind of restrictiveness.
It takes time to really learn how to make the most out of what you already have. So with this in mind I try to find a healthy balance between the gear and the music.
It’s two years since Bicycle Ride was released, borne of a seven-month stay in hospital where you’d smuggled a laptop, iD4 and Korg Minilogue to record ideas whilst recuperating. Would you say your creative process has changed since then?
That’s a good question! I am really lucky I survived that period of my life. Being seriously ill for 1.5 years has changed my perspective on life forever. Even though it was the most difficult period of my life, it has also shaped who I am today.
“My creative process surely has changed”
My creative process surely has changed because of this experience. I just don’t care much about stuff I thought was important before I got seriously ill. It ‘freed’ me in a sense in how I approach life and therefore how I approach creating music. You could say my illness was a curse but also a blessing all at the same time.
Listening to the first song from your collaborative project with Zhang Zige all in Chinese and then your EP The Void composed for Pulitzer prize winner Ian Urbina’s book, The Outlaw Ocean really highlights your diverse range of styles. Did you approach each of these projects in a similar way?
I am very fortunate to be in the position to collaborate with such talented people.
Being an independent musician you have the freedom to experiment and you don’t have to always stick to one particular style of music. For instance if you listen to all my albums they are all pretty different. It has turned out to be a big plus for me because the people I work with each have their own personal references from my music. Zhang Zige was a full on pop production and the team referenced songs like “I Will Be There” from the Bicycle Ride album, whereas Ian Urbina’s project went more into soundtrack territories like my song “You Were Bigger Than Life”.
“I am very fortunate to be in the position to collaborate with such talented people”
I think it’s important to keep this freedom as an artist, to give yourself more room to breathe and explore new directions with an open mind.
As for the actual approach, they were quite different for each. Zhang Zige sent me a very rough demo track with her voice. I asked her to send the acapella and I created a whole new production around her voice and her emotions. She sang in Chinese, which I can’t understand unfortunately, so I had to go with her raw emotion and the different tones of her words and the flow of her sentences. It was a new experience for me, as I had to create fitting music based on her sound.
For Urbina, this was a totally different project altogether! He asked me to create music based on his book ‘The Outlaw Ocean’. So naturally I needed to read the book first to create any meaningful music at all. The book explores this lawless realm and the diversity of human rights, labour and environmental abuses occurring at sea. All very intense and heavy stuff.
During his 5 years of reporting he built a big audio library of field recordings which featured a variety of textured and often rhythmic sounds like machine-gun fire off the coast of Somalia and chanting captive deckhands on the South China Sea which I incorporated in the music. But more importantly, I wanted to capture the emotions behind these stories and the often difficult subjects Urbina investigated in some of his chapters.
You have recently launched the Shook Synth Sample Pack in association with Black Octopus; tell us more about that.
Recently I have been making a lot of funky jam videos on my social media. The reactions are quite amazing, and many people asked me about the sounds. And because of the isolated times we are in right now, I thought it would be cool to create a big sample library for producers to work with – which I hope they will find inspiring and useful for their own music.
The pack includes a lot of sounds from my synthesizers, one-shots, loops, basslines and even a ton of midi files. I also decided to include the many drum recordings I have collected (and used for my own music) over the years like snares, claps, all kinds of synthesized percussion sounds I made with my Moog Model D.
For the majority of sounds I used the ASP880 preamp for the recordings. Sometimes I cranked up the input level to give the sound some more color. You could really hear this in the bass sounds which are all quite punchy and rounded.
A highlight in the sample library is also the claps, which I recorded using numerous microphones which were fed in the ASP880. Some I even recorded in my previous apartment in the bathroom which had really nice acoustics!
“To be somehow connected to ‘space’ is truly incredible”
Your music has been to SPACE! How did you hear about it? How do you feel – has it even sunk in yet? Where on earth do you go from here?!
Yes, that happened! Christina Koch DM’ed me via instagram. At first I thought it was spam or something, but it was all real life. It is a huge honour to me. It’s probably one of THE biggest honours you can get as a musician in my opinion.
She directed me to the Spotify newsroom article and I framed the pictures and printed her story out for posterity. To be somehow connected to ‘space’ – literally – is truly incredible to me and I will cherish that forever.
In all seriousness, what is coming up next for you?
There is always something! At the moment I am releasing a collection of tracks part of the ‘Hotline’ EP. This collection is kind of like an outlet for all the video jams I have been releasing on my socials recently. It’s nice to be able to do this, so that these jams aren’t lost in the void.
I am also doing this with the ‘Lost Tracks’ series. I am just making so much music, and sometimes some tracks won’t make it to the album. With this series I have an outlet for some of these tracks.
I am also working on a new album, which I am slowly perfecting, and hopefully this will be out later this year.
Well Audient can’t wait to hear it! It’s been lovely to chat, Jasper – stay well and keep in touch.
For those who can’t wait, head over to his Instagram to find out more.