Steve Hauschildt is an ambient, electronic artist hailing from Cleveland, Ohio and was a founding member of the band Emeralds (2006-2013). On June 27th, he played at the Dallas Ambient Music Nights (DAMN) headlining a show with Future Museums, Adam Pacione, and Jake Schrock, whose works you should all check out. Hauschildt played an incredible set with visuals he brought to accompany his electronic wizardry. After the evening’s music was over, Hauschildt sad down with me for an interview. The following is a transcription of our conversation.
I guess I would like to start with where you’ve gone with your process. More specifically, how have things developed for you as an ambient artist in terms of how you approach your craft since you wrote, recorded, and released Tragedy and Geometry?
After Tragedy and Geometry, I did Sequiter which I recorded up in Vancouver, a good amount of it, that wasn’t really an ambient record at all. I was really trying to emulate Yellow Magic Ochestra or revisiting a lot of their stuff. So I was using synthesizers and drum machines in like, not simple or straight forward, but in a way that is not complex. But the music of YMO is super inspired and very deep. I don’t mean to suggest that their music is simplistic. It’s actually very complex but it’s very well-arranged pop music too. It fused electronic music and pop music in a way that was probably more successful than Kraftwerk. But, getting back to my point, I wasn’t really coming from a mindset of doing ambient music, even in 2011. So, I listen to a lot of music that can be considered ambient and, certainly, the ideas behind it are very important, and there are elements of that in my music. But I think that describing it as solely ambient music is incorrect but I don’t have a solution or a different way to describe it other than that so I’m usually fine with people describing it as that.
My process evolved out of necessity. I think it was important to think about effects as being an instrument or a studio as being an instrument as opposed to just doing synthesis on because I think that a lot of people are really into synthesizers and do really nice things with them but I think the pallet you get with that is kind of one or two dimensional. So, what I was doing took other steps and other processes. So, my thinking was to bring in other studio’s rack equipment, their instruments, third party plug-ins, all of these different that end up contributing to the what my music sounds like in by the time someone hears it.
Looking back over your output so far, starting with Tragedy and Geometry and going through to Where All Is Fled, did you have any great learning moments through the process of writing and recording those albums?
Where All is Fled is a weird one. I recorded that album off and on over the course of two years. A good amount of that time, I actually had tinnitus in my left ear. It eventually resolved but that album took longer than I wanted it to make it just because of health issues. That was actually a part of the making of that album which I’ve never really told anyone about. It wasn’t totally debilitating and I was able to work but it was definitely a hindrance. Anyway, as I went from album to album… like, the first album, I had two synthesizers on it and it was a very restrained approach. After that, my next two full-length albums utilized far more instruments, which opened up the sound of those records for better or worse. I think that’s one of the things that I learned was that I didn’t have to use my own equipment and record everything at home. I could go into a studio and use that space and use the equipment there to make my songs and develop them.
Your use of aural space is breathtaking, particularly on Strands. Can you talk a bit about your use of minimalism and how you express yourself though wide soundscapes that almost play with a sort of long form space?
Yeah. Obviously, I’m a fan of the original minimalists in music going back to Steve Reich, Phil Glass, Terry Reiley, and La Monte Young. I’m also a fan of a lot of post-minimalists, like second and third generation, of which there is a multitude in Europe and America in both the academic and non-academic realms. So, I’m very tuned into a lot of that stuff, especially in Italy and Spain. These countries had so much happening in the 70’s which was a clear response to what was going on in America. It integrated things in a more playful manner and tended not to have the more pure approach. Like Pep Llopis, there’s a record that was just reissued by my friend Pete Swanson on the label Freedom to Spend and he (Pep Llopis) was a Spanish minimalist who I hadn’t even heard of until a couple of years ago, and he’s not a household name or anything but he’s a huge influence on my music. It makes me really glad that that record had a reissue because it introduces Pep Llopis to a wider audience.
But, getting back to what you were saying, the minimalist approach is very important to me. However, I still utilize a lot of layers and things like that. So, yeah, I definitely wear those influences on my sleeve but I do other things as well. I’m not making one style of music all the time but those influences are definitely there.
And your years in Emeralds will certainly stay with you some in terms of what you take into your music.
Yes, definitely. Those were the most important and developmental times of my life as a musician. The exploration in drone and minimal music was super inspirational at that time.
I love your tonal and textural choices in your tracks. What attracts you to particular tones and textures and do you sort of have a sense about what you want feeling-wise from a track as you begin to work on it?
Being into John Cage and sort of understanding the ideas of what he wrote with regards to silence taught me things about how to fill a space when it’s empty. Although a lot of what I do is maximalist to me, I’m very mindful about how a sound will cover up or conceal another sound, so I try to find a place for all of those sounds if that makes sense. I’m speaking kind of vaguely, but in some cases I think I have an idea of how to get a sound to a certain place and I can will it there through effects and other times I just stumble upon things through experimentation.
Walk us through what it’s like for you to begin working on a track and how you progress? When do you “know” a track is finished?
I’ll start with the last part. I never know when a track is finished. Even songs that I recorded a couple of years ago that I will have in a live set, I can still make changes and alterations to them live. So, in a sense, nothing is ever really finished, although it can be recorded. I don’t really know when it’s done. It’s more that I have to put out a record.
In terms of beginning the work, it can be started through just an instrument that I like the sound of or a chord progression. I normally don’t start on a synthesizer that much because, I don’t know, the way that Suzanne Ciani worked on Seven Waves was inspiring. She wrote all those parts out by hand on piano and figured out all the melodies and stuff even though she was using things like Prophet 5’s. All of that was written over the course of a couple of years and you can tell compositionally because every part of those songs has a place. That approach was always something that I liked. If you are dealing with tonal music, you don’t have to write the music on the instrument that you are composing it for. You can write for strings with a piano. You can write with horns for a synthesizer. I think it’s actually useful to do that.
So do you usually start out on a piano? Do you play guitar? Or does it vary?
I do not play guitar. Stringed instruments mystify me. I think I understand the interface of a piano the most. Also, the Rhodes sound has a transparency to it that allows you to hear chords in ways… especially when you get into 7ths and 9ths or harmonic stuff. I like to use the Rhodes sounds to do progressions. I find it quite useful especially for jazz chords. I don’t always do but the piano is a good place to remove yourself from the experimentation you do later.
Now that Strands has been out for a little over half a year, how does the album sit with you? What are your favorite pieces on it?
I think some of the tracks haven’t aged as well as some of the others. I think “Ketracel” still sounds ok. “Horizon of Appearances” I think still holds up but there are some of the other tracks like “Die in Fascination” or “Transience of Earthly Joys”, because I didn’t use a real piano, that and a few tracks just don’t sound like something I’d want to listen to. I mean, I usually don’t back and listen to songs after they are actually released because I’ve already heard them dozens of times. Unless I need to references something, I don’t really have a reason to go back and listen to it. An album like Strands doesn’t fully stands up to me. But I’m also really critical of my music.
I like to ask artists about the writing and recording of specific songs on their newest work to sort of get some more insight into their process and the songs themselves. Could you talk a bit about writing and recording “Horizon of Appearances” and “Transience of Earthly Joys”?
“Horizon of Appearances” I started in my home studio. The track evokes for me the stuff like Steve Roach and the track title kind of evokes that vibe too. I wanted to evoke this spacious sense. I used a lot of pads without any percussive elements. So I think it benefited from working with Rafael at the studio. We were able to take some of the textural stuff that I did and amplify it into more complex things or just take things elsewhere using some of his equipment. That track definitely benefited from his touch.
“Transient of Earthly Joys”… the demo I made of that song had way more reverb than the actual track on the album. When I brought it in, Rafael was into it and we were always joking about the track since we referred to it as the Estonian track even though it had nothing to do with Estonia other than the fact that we both like Arvo Pärt. So, I wanted to do something that was kind of like his work but I kind of wanted to obliterate it. There’s a part in the track where that happens. The piano sounds I used on that song were really bad but we were able to make it work because of the process, using guitar pedals. One of the things we used on it was an echo degrader to make it not sound terrible. But even then, it still doesn’t have the expressiveness of a piano. The organ sound on that track changed pretty drastically. It was more washed out and reverb heavy when I brought it in but when Rafael and I worked on it, it ended up being less effective. So that track went through a number of transformations. I would like to do a whole album in that style at some point.
What equipment do you use when you play live?
Ableton live is the brain of what I use for live performances like a lot of people. I don’t use the looping capabilities that much actually. It’s a very vital part of my setup in terms of controlling my instruments through midi. My main synthesizers are the Prophet 08 and the Waldorf Blofeld. I also use Kontakt for some piano sounds and Waldorf Nave for pad sounds. As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of Waldorf stuff. It’s nice that Ableton Live allows you to sample things. Not everything I do is 100% live because there are some things I just can’t bring with me since I don’t want to compromise the sound entirely. So there are certain non-live elements to my live set. However, the majority of what I do on stage is live.
Yeah, you look like you are playing live unlike some other artists in the genre.
I mean, things can go wrong while playing live like they did tonight. There was a point where certain parts were too loud. But yeah, the idea that, if you are just up there playing files of the music entirely, there’s no idea of risk or having the possibility of improvisation. Because of my background, I’ll never abandon the ability to improvise even if I’m not doing it 100%. It’s important to do something live. There are certainly people that don’t do that.
So what’s next for you and your project?
I’m working on a new record. I was just in New York working for a few days with Rafael again. It’s definitely, I don’t want to say too much about it, but it’s definitely taking some of my earlier synth influences in a more direct way. But it still maintains a core of what I’ve done previously. It should be coming out next summer if everything goes as planned. I want to do a couple more sessions in the studio and get everything ready for production. I’m thinking May or June of next year. It may surprise people in some ways but when I go into the studio and I show Rafael my material and say it’s really different, he always goes “no, it still sounds like you.” I guess it’s not that different. It’s not like I’m Skrillex or something now. I wanted to move away from traditional time signatures. I mean, it’s not prog necessarily, but it has more complexity to the compositional elements. I didn’t want to do a bunch of four on the floor stuff either.
Well, thanks for talking to me! I appreciate it.
Thanks so much.