Growing up with video games gives you a lot of memorable ‘firsts’
Your first console, the first boss you beat, the first Pokémon you caught. All big, beautiful memories wrapped up in the glow of nostalgia. It is a very similar feeling to hearing Grumpysnorlax for the first time. This Virginia native has been crafting beats for the last few years that take you right back but at the same time feel completely current. Manipulating dreamy, electronic melodies from his OP-1 and serving a good dose of sadness, but also joy, to his listeners; this producer has continually grown into a sound all his own. With the success of his last project ‘Nurse Joy’ and game changing plans in his future, we sat down with Grumps to discover what makes him tick.
So let's talk about your last project, 'Nurse Joy'. How did that tape come together?
Well I had this idea that I wanted a kind of sad vibe to it? Like the shit I'd been going through, with my Dad going through cancer and passing away, it felt like the vibe. It just started from this really sad song I made and from that I knew I had to take it and make a whole project from it.
Yeah like take that feeling to a musical conclusion.
Yeah exactly. It was crazy, I started with the last song on the tape and that somehow inspired me to do the whole thing. I sort of worked backwards through it.
You dedicated the tape to your Dad. The track 'Bellydrum' is a really beautiful but heart-retching tribute. Were you scared to expose yourself emotionally like that?
I thought the same thing. Originally I wasn't even going to include that track, but I felt it was right. I listen to my songs like a thousand times before they release so I don't even like them really when they come out. But with this one I thought it was good but I felt like I really needed to explain my story. At that time my Dad was in hospice with the doctors just making sure he was comfortable for his passing and I just felt I needed to share that. I thought some people might like it or I'm going to get a bunch of trolls and all this dumb shit. I had shared some things about what I was going through on IG with a few people and they were supportive, so I figured it would be OK on FB. Also I got a family on FB and I thought if anyone says some dumb shit, they would have my back haha.
I'd say despite the sad circumstances of the tape's creation, it actually does have a sense of joy in it as well. Like a reflective joy.
Yeah and that was something I thought about because I wanted to make something sad, but with those kinds of emotions you need to have an up and down feeling as well. So I tried to serve some happiness into the mix too. Putting it together I had all the songs and was trying to find the right mix for them, but then it was like some are too sad next to each other, some were too upbeat. So I struggled for days trying to figure out the perfect mix. I'd bounce it out and listen to it whenever I was out. It was my soundtrack for like three months.
Oh wow. So it was a real curation process as well?
Oooh yeah. I was trying to make sure it had the blend and flowed with what I was doing at the time.
The name 'Nurse Joy' is almost a perfect name for it. Like the music is almost medication for all the shit you had been through?
I can see that. I mean that's what I do.
The response to the tape was overwhelmingly positive. How did it feel to get such a great response to such a personal project?
I had a feeling that I was going to get a positive response so I already came into with that mind set, but I was blown away by all the love for the project and the video. My phone went crazy and I was like 'what’s going on?!?'
I love 'Nurse Joy' man. I love that it doesn't try to be anything but itself? Do you know what I mean?
Thank you! I definitely see that. It's hard to explain, but when I felt so depressed there were moments of joy. A lot of the songs I would show my Dad like go visit him and show him, and he would be overwhelmed with joy that I was out here creating. I guess that could be why that joy aspect comes through.
That makes a lot of sense actually. When you make beats is there a process?
I don't really think so? It's hard question because it's like trying to explain yourself and that's tough haha. It’s almost just a natural, organic thing. Usually I try to hone in on what I’m trying to create. I'm a big music nerd, even though I've never been to school for it, but I've been teaching myself a lot. So sometimes it will start with me writing something down or putting musical ideas together. It will start with an idea in my head but sometimes it's not even that. When I turn on the OP-1 I just get lost in this little world of randomness. Like sometimes I'll just clap into the mic and try making something of that, like a drum kit. Then I'll scrap that but that's sparked another idea you know?
Do you have to be in a specific mood or mind set?
Not really. I think with 'Nurse Joy' I had to be in that mood of thinking about where my life is headed. All the projects before that sprung off of just me being there and doing it. It's not necessarily a mood but I'll be in that mode. I seem to get creative about three am. That's my peak time right there.
Your music can have its sadder moments but I think overall your music has an almost imaginary, childlike joy in curiosity to it. Do you think that's fair?
That's how I like music man! If it's got something weird to it you know? I can see the childlike aspect because my whole thing when I started out was no one wants to grow up man haha. Everyone wants to be a kid and just play some games or whatever haha. I started this whole Grumpsnorlax thing because of nostalgia actually. I started making boom bap but everyone kept referring to me as Lo-Fi and I just embraced it. The whole thing is homage to my childhood where I would just play Pokémon and Nintendo games.
What do you think of the link between nostalgia and Lo-Fi? Why do you think the two have been put together?
I love the link I'm not going to lie. I love that people are using these old school things you know? I think everyone wants to go back to a simpler time in Hip Hop. To when Dilla and Nujabes were the still putting out music. That’s probably going to get a bunch of backlash but some people get so caught up in what can and can't be Lo-Fi. Lo-Fi wasn't even Hip Hop originally! I think everyone wants a return to that but doesn’t want to admit it.
I think the nostalgia link has a lot to do with the laid back attitude of the music. The world is crazy right now and Lo-Fi gives you the space, time and mood to just pause for a minute. Do you think there's any truth in that?
That's one of the main things I think. Everyone's tired of all this stuff going on. The internet has played a big part but we are also using it to express these feelings, so it's kind of a double edged sword.
Talking of Dilla and Nujabes, who are some of your influences?
Awh man...Honestly it's such a big thing. Everyone I listen to inspires me in some way. It's so hard haha! Honestly I think it was Quasimoto that really brought me into Hip Hop. I liked it because it was weird and different. I think my main influences aren’t really Hip Hop. R Kelly I really like for some reason. My Dad would listen to him all the time and the little synth lines in some of his tracks just stuck in my head. People don't want to say people like R Kelly are good and I was always made fun of in school for listening to him haha. In terms of general influences though; we got Outkast, Tribe Called Quest (that was always on loop). I love those older bands too like Deep Purple and Def Leppard. I love the stories behind their music.
R Kelly's got some big ones man! He's definitely a strange character but he makes some good music!
Haha he's a crazy dude.
So really your inspiration comes from everywhere?
Yeah man. Most of my inspiration actually comes from my fellow producers in groups on FB and stuff. They just have these personalities where they are just themselves and that inspires me to try and be more myself you know?
I think if Lo-Fi hadn't come around you would be in that Bonobo, Flying Lotus category.
Hell yeah, Fly Lo is a big one too. What’s awesome about Fly Lo are his bass lines. All his bass lines are these dirty, nasty sounding riffs. Now that I think about it, they inspired me a lot to be honest. I'd always think 'how can I make this bass line super nasty?' you know? It just sounds like energy. Like pure electricity.
I'd say your music is more chill though. Do you think more relaxed music has grown in popularity the last couple of years?
Oh for sure! I think it's always been around but it's not always been so prominent in the underground. I think Lo-Fi has helped a lot. Even if it wasn't called Lo-Fi I think something similar would be around. That whole movement came out of vaporwave, which all came from memes essentially. So when you think about it's all one big joke haha. I started out making like 140 bpm stuff and then slowly went off it. It was too fast and I was tired of it. I switched to down to like 107 and was like 'That's perfect'. I fell in love with these slower songs from that.
So we were talking a little bit earlier about the Pokémon connection. Are there any other video games that influence you?
I think what pushed me in the video game direction was one day I turned on the old Nintendo system I had and just got sucked into this old school world. I think Chrono Trigger and a lot of the old JRPG SNES games had so much influence on me as a person. I think that's bled into my music in a big way.
That makes a lot of sense now you mention Chrono Trigger and those old JRPGS. Your music sounds thematically like those games' soundtracks without just being tonally similar beats. You could put 'Nurse Joy' all over a video game.
I get you man. It's crazy that you say that because I've been working on putting together a Game Boy cartridge of my music. Like a game album. I've been working with some modders who have discovered an easy way to create games on the console without using an emulator or something. I've been trying to work within the limits of Game Boy tech. I've been thinking of concepts for the game the album would score too. I'm thinking a Pokémon thing with a new RPG element. So essentially it's an album in a game.
Oh wow that sounds amazing! Perfect for your sound too!
It all started out with this idea that you’re a Pokémon trainer who wakes up a Snorlax and he's all grumpy and not listening to you. It's going to be hard though. The Game Boy has four channels for music. There's a noise channel for drums and the three different synthesis waves for creating melodies. That's partly why I got the OP-1. It limits you down to four tracks. The crazy thing with Game Boys is you can't have chords on one channel? So you have to use two. This is why old games usually use arpeggios. That limitation is a challenge but so worth it. It makes you really write music.
Wow what a dope idea! How did the expertise for this come together?
I met these people at a convention call Music and Gaming Festival (MAGFEST). It was that perfect blend of things I love. I could find a coder that knows how to do this stuff but also a person that knows how to compose for the Game Boy and get round its limitations. MAGFEST was another big influence actually.
So you have mentioned the synthesizer/sampler/sequencer the Teenage Engineering OP-1 a couple times so far. Most people use an SP or MPC or just the laptop. Why the OP-1? What is it that drew you to that machine?
It's the simplicity. I would stare at Ableton for hours and hours, tweaking one little thing and I got sick of it. When I work on a computer it feels like anything can distract me. I felt like I needed to break away from computer music. I wanted to get back to hands on beat making. Also the screen has a fucking cow on it dude haha. He manipulates the audio and there are all kinds of hidden games on it and stuff. It’s so cool and so much fun!
Would you say Grumpysnorlax and the OP sound are interlinked now?
Yeah. If I didn't have the OP-1 I wouldn't have all the supporters I have now. It all came out of some crappy video I uploaded to IG with it that seemed to get a lot of attention. I think me and the machine have grown together. We are one now; I'll never get rid of that thing. Not even when it's in pieces. I was even thinking of getting a tattoo of it haha.
You are involved with the IG page 'op1andchill' too. Can you explain a little bit of what you do there and how it came about?
So the channel just reposts people playing their OPs and showcases all the talented people using the machine. My involvement started out with the owner selling one of his OPs and stopping posting for a while. I messaged him because myself, and a bunch of other people I'd met through there, missed him. From there he let me take over the account for the weekend and from that he saw I made it grow exponentially. He decided to add me and my buddy to the team. So now we are three people just showcasing and curating all the dope stuff going on in the OP community. We just want to bring all the users (we call them chillers haha) to one page and get them recognised.
What makes this machine so special?
Honestly it all comes down to the cow haha. That screen sucks you into all these weird visuals. It’s just so different.
That's such a valid point though. If a piece of kit doesn't draw you in there's no incentive to 'play' with it. It's an important of part of creating anything.
Exactly. It's something about getting away from a more regimented way of creating. I was looking at an SP at first but I'm so into synthesis that I didn't want to lose that. I think that anyone who gets an OP-1 will fall head over heels with it and will become a real important piece of their set up.
So what's coming next for Grumpysnorlax?
Honestly I don't know yet. I've been putting together a lot of starts to tracks but don't feel as if they are going anywhere. But you know my track 'm i s t y.wav' started that way so that might just be the artist self-hatred thing haha. I am planning to put out tapes again after my last tape deck died as well. I got some secret stuff in the works too haha.
Ahh we will have to wait and see then! Well thank you so much for chatting with us Grumps, where can we follow you?
No worries man. You can find me on Spotify, Soundcloud and Bandcamp under ‘Grumpysnorlax’. I’m also on IG @grumpysnorlax.
Check out more Grumpysnorlax here:
Grumpysnorlax is the featured artist on Episode 3 of The Dust Off, check that out.
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