I recently sat down for a chat with Jake Freeman, perhaps better known by his moniker Protector 101, producer of retro-electronic soundtracks, for a retrospective chat about his stellar album The Wastelands, the music production process and synthesisers. This is the first instalment of what will hopefully evolve into a new series of artist on artist interviews for SynthetixFM. Incidently, if you’re a producer interested in contributing to this new series, either as an interviewer or interviewee or somewhere in between, or perhaps want to share your great reciprocal relationship with another synth-pal, do get in touch with either myself or Rick Shithouse.
For more information on Protector 101:
For more information on OGRE:
Off The Grid with Ogre and Protector101
Robin (OGRE): So Jake, how are you? What's going on with P101?
Jake (Protector 101): I'm doing well, Robin. Thanks for having me on board here. Been quite busy lately! Just finished up writing a soundtrack to a faux movie, working on two other tracks for two other projects and possibly about to take on another full length movie score in the very near future... So yeah, busy.
Robin: That's action packed! When you say faux movie, are we talking another soundtrack to a film that doesn't exist?
Jake: Yes, correct. Well, it's kind of different in this case. Usually I would come up with a movie plot or whatever myself but in this case it was a group thought, I'm part of this project called Time Slap where we take suggested fake movie titles from others and make a plot around it. At the end we use that audio discussion and make an audio trailer out of it and put music to it. In this particular episode I wanted to do the audio for the trailer, needed about 3-4 minutes worth of material and ended up with 30+ minutes instead making it a full soundtrack for this movie that doesn't exist. [EDIT: In fact, it’s just been released]
Robin: I'm right in thinking that's the project you do with Mike (The WhoHa/Retro Promenade) and Andy (Beyond Synth Podcast)?
Jake: Yeah, and another guy CG. In this paticular episode we had a special guest, Newt Wallen of Midnight Show.
Robin: Brilliant ! It's great when projects spawn other projects. Collaboration's awesome. I also wanted to ask you the differences you find between working on personal projects like The Wasteland and working on actual scores, as I know you've been involved with a few movies over the past few years! I actually find it a lot easier to work with directors, producers and deadlines. I think it's because there's less time to second guess myself and spend months on a track or mix...
Jake: Well there's definitely pro's and con's with both. Working on personal projects you have the free will to do whatever you want, and you only have yourself to worry about. It's a great feeling but it's hard to come up with all the ideas, you know. Especially when it's "soundtrack" related. I'm a very visual guy so working on a project with just myself I look to other movies, images, stories, etc for that motivation and inspiration.
Now working with others in a movie based project can be very stressful situation. You're adding audio to someone’s film that they spent so much time on, days, months, years, editing, rewriting, legal issues, so there's this constant feeling to not fuck it up [laughs]. But, the upside to that is you have all the visual cues right in front of you so it's super easy to get that inspiration.
Robin: Yeah, I definitely respond to visual stimuli a lot too. I often find myself whacking on a movie on silent and just writing to the images if I get stuck [laughs].
Jake: It's such an awesome feeling when things just click and everyone comes together to help and this little project becomes so much bigger!
Robin: But as you say, there's a lot more pressure with film.
Jake: Deadlines can be nice to work with! It really motivates you to just get it done! When I had done the soundtrack work on COLLAR I only had a months time to get 70+ minutes worth of music done! It was stressful but it was a great rush.
Robin: Man, that's a crazy amount of music in such a short time frame! I think on average with work I produce a solid 2 minutes a day. You must've been really inspired! I've heard crazy stories of people producing mega amounts of music in no time at all though. I think I'm correct in saying that a load of John Carpenter scores were done in a day?
Jake: Exactly! We had this conversation before about John Carpenter on how rushed things were, especially within the soundtrack piece of the film! Just get it done and slap it together. But even with all that rushing around John and Alan have some of the best melodies and score pieces that came out of the 80's. I think I was just lucky though with COLLAR. Although it's P101 music it's different... a lot of synth drones and on the verge of noise at moments, so that definitely helped with progressing at a decent pace.
Robin: So, let's talk about The Wasteland. Stunning release, and a strong contender for my favourite P101 album to date. There are so many things I love about it, and I find it hard to pick a favourite track. It's a really cohesive album, and a great soundtrack. So I guess the first thing I wanted to ask you was where did the concept for it come from?
Jake: Honestly it starts back from my previous release, Hunter's Journey, in particular the track "Back Alleys". You see, “Back Alleys” was going to be on Hunter's Journey but it just didn't seem to fit with the whole futuristic vibe I was trying to go for, so I held onto the track for awhile and ended up releasing it as a single on Bandcamp. A couple of months went by and I still felt that this track had something still going for it. I ended up making “The Vipers” afterwards, then “The Nuclear Brawlers”, it eventually started to paint a picture in front of me, a story
Robin: That's really interesting that you'd mention “Back Alleys” and “The Vipers”! They were literally the next thing I wanted to talk to you about [laughs].
Jake: One track after another I envisioned a post apocalyptic setting with two people trying to survive and what ends up happening to them and these gangs that they would run into had their own "theme" song. It just all worked out quite well.
Robin: That's awesome man. It definitely comes through with the framed narrative parts, “Radio Wasteland” and the “Epilogue”. It's evident that an awful lot of thought went into this release, from the concept to the awesome cassette packaging to the whole gap-less playthrough thing. Any movies or games that helped maintaining apocalyptic mode in the writing process? I get a sense of the 1975 movie A Boy and His Dog when I listen through, if you're familiar with it. It's got a very young Don Johnson in it [laughs].
Jake: Yeah, those narratives really bring it all together and really makes it seem all real. We used my buddy Matt's first take for "Radio Wasteland". He just said these words and it was perfect and this was before he had even heard the album! And being that he's from Australia and has that accent just brought the whole Mad Max vibe into play! He was kind enough to find another wonderful voice actor, Natalie, for the Epilogue. And it was great to have them come back later and do voice work for the stand alone track "Fog" as well.
Robin: It's really great, it brings a whole other narrative dimension to the album and as you say, it brings it all together.
Jake: Five movies stood out for me for inspiration. A Boy and His Dog, Mad Max II, The Road, Hardware and The Warriors. I'm a big post-apocalyptic fan anyways so that definitely helped in the process. [Laughter] Oh man, Don Johnson was so young in that movie
Robin: I loved The Road, though I only recently watched it. The others are all firm favourites.
Jake: I just loved how bleak and grey The Road is. Like there's no hope at all. Just like in Wastelands. She loses her partner amongst this battle against some gang that's been terrorizing them and even though she survives she's completely turned into what she's been trying to fight against, meaning she's actually enjoying it. And that whole question if she's devolving or evolving around her environment really hits home to me.
Robin: It's pretty harrowing! But then I guess all post-apocalyptic futures are and should be [laughs]! So with “Back Alleys” and “The Vipers”, I wouldn't have thought they'd been written non-chronologically as they flow so well. I find when I'm writing albums, especially soundtracks to films that don't exist, I largely stay within chronological order of the tracks being written, if that makes sense. Probably because themes and things seem to progress naturally in that way, for me anyway.
Jake: Oh I totally get that and I usually work in that flow. This situation was different I guess being that I had this track to work from. I kind of worked backwards from “Back Alleys” and then forwards, [laughs]. It actually worked quite well too within the story because in the video short that my friends made The Vipers were bikers and here I had this track that I wrote months and months earlier that starts off with motorcycle engines revving up. It was actually quite an amazing moment when everything just clicked before my eyes [laughter].
Robin: The short really added to the 'event' of the album, if that makes sense! I think Master Control Program's art really ties in nicely too.
Jake: I was lucky to have so many people take the time to help me with this project. I truly feel grateful to have so many awesome people around me. And yes! He has an eye for this type of thing and after working with him on Hunter’s Journey I just knew I had to have him help me again on Wastelands. You can just tell he puts a lot of heart and soul into his work which then seeps into the music. Without that right visual this release wouldn't have been the same.
Robin: Yeah, the whole design of the cassette was brilliant too! I loved the VHS style library box. It brought a whole other element to it.
Jake: Telefuture made that dream come to life. I wanted to this release to be in a VHS Clam Shell type casing so bad. I honestly couldn't see it any other way and TF were awesome about it and just made it happen! Slap on the MCP artwork for the front and the back, use the video short for screen shots on the back, everything just matched up perfectly.
Robin: Let's talk synths! I think I'm right in saying Synth1 is a P101 staple? Were there any cool new production bits you learnt or used making The Wastelands, or any new kit/bits used in the production of the album?
Jake: 99% of Wastelands was completed using Synth1. Absolutely love that vst! As far as new production techniques I'd say probably the more ambient tracks within the album, layering the synth drones just right, not too loud or soft, trying to make a synth sound organic so to speak. Also just playing improved tracks like "Stalked Across the Badlands" and just accepting whatever notes come next. I'd also like to mention The Mutants as that was a pretty cool track to work on. This one used quite a bit of samples that were slowed way down and plus it gave me a chance to do mutant moaning noises [laughs].
Robin: Do I detect a hint of paulstretch or similar?
Jake: [Laughter] I knew you'd find that one out, Robin!
Robin: I'm a big fan. I used it on 194 a few times, and I've returned to it for a track on 195.I think paulstretch could be its own genre [laughs].
Jake:... maybe paulstretch and Vaporwave should be combined one day
Robin: I can see it happening! It's a great bit of software, and it's got a megatonne of different features haha. Vaporwave seems to be all about re-pitching and stretching samples anyway. I enjoyed your little track the other day!
Jake: Oh, [laughs]... thanks! I don't know if I'll ever make another Vaporwave track but I think you're the same way in that you like to try different things within music. By doing so you learn new things and plus you're doing something different and not the same thing over and over again.
Robin: I actually had a stab at it months ago too...but didn't know quite what I was doing. Maybe I'll post some up...
Jake: Do it! I wanna hear your track!
Robin: Anyway, it's amazing the mileage you get out of Synth1. I've never actually used it. I'm going to download it now and have a play. I've heard lots of great things about it. What other kit are you rocking at the moment? Are you a hardware aficionado, or pretty much working in the box?
Jake: Pretty much working in the box. I have some hardware, a couple of Korg DSS-1's and the Volca Series and little things like that but I've only used those for fiddling around with. I love them and I'm glad I have them I just haven't found that right time to use them yet for some reason. But I guess when you have something like 10,000 sample banks in Synth1 it's kind of hard to come out of the box.
Robin: Yeah, we are spoiled for choice with modern DAWs and VSTs. I've tried to cut back on hardware synths, as they're an addiction for me. I do love them though, but can sink hours into menu diving. I find they're great spring boards for inspiration though, and one preset can sometimes jump start a track. And I haven't checked out the Volcas but they look like a lot of fun! I really like Korg's stuff.
Jake: Bottom line, nothing beats the original, meaning the hardware synths. I have an addictive personality with certain things and I just know that hardware synths would be one of them if I started to collect. Korg’s stuff is amazing. Simple, works and most importantly fun to use.
Robin: I actually pretty much just used an Electribe when I was first learning about sequencing and production. I found it so hard to get into DAWs. That's when the bug bit me. The biggest problem is hardware takes up a lot of space. It's why I've gotten into racks.
Jake: [Laughter] I love seeing peoples pictures with synths all over the place. It makes me really jealous but then I think, I don't even have enough room for my junk in the first place.
Robin: Dallas [Campbell, https://soundcloud.com/dallas-campbell] puts us all to shame. He has such an amazing looking workspace!
Jake: Man, that guy has so much hardware it's insane! I think he needs to share his collection with others!
Robin: I know! Or let us make a pilgrimage over to his house! Anyway, thanks a mill for chatting with me man, it’s been a pleasure!
Jake: Of course, Robin! It was totally my pleasure and thank you for staying up ultra late to talk with me!