With modern music software, anyone can lay one song over another. Not everyone has the skill and creativity to do it right.
Weinberg freshman Andrew Kang has spent months at his computer slicing, chopping, sampling, altering and mashing away at audio files to put together a full-length album entitled Panic and Paranoia: The Catastrophic Mixdown. We sat down with Kang to discuss the process, the inspiration, the glory and the catastrophe that is the mashup.
What is your musical background and how and when did you get into the digital/electronic stuff?
Well I played a lot of instruments when I was a kid, I played trombone, trumpets, a lot of classical music. But what really led me into this remixing [and] mashup stuff was really just my background as a fan. I think that’s really more the inspiration. I think the profile of mashup artist is that we are fans first and artists second.
So do you mean a fan of mashup artists or a fan of music in general?
In general. I think something that is kind of interesting about a mashup artist, and the industry as a whole, which is kind of underground, [is that] we try to sell our talent versus trying to sell our music as a product. I mean, we understand as mashup artists that we don’t own the copyrights or anything like that, so we try to sell the idea that we want to show and interpret the music in a different way. We believe that we are in the right when we use this music. With the big explosion with Girl Talk and everything, he’s not the first to do mashups but the reason he is so popular is because he has the live component and he’s selling himself more than anything else.
So what’s your personal experience with live sets?
Well, I’ve DJed a couple times live before, and the reason Girl Talk is so good at what he does is that he isolates every sound, and he’s mixing it all live, which is very difficult to do. For me, I’m not that experienced at that yet, so usually I’ll take a drum sequence, time it up exactly and then mix it live. But most of the independent triggers are usually compacted together. I can press one and play two or three tracks at the same time. It’s working towards my ultimate goal of being able to do a live set and perfectly trigger my mashups.
When you make music, does the technical aspect usually concern you? Do you want people to see the effort that went into it?
I think a characteristic of all mashup artists is that they’re perfectionists. It’s difficult for me to be satisfied with everything I make because whenever I listen to it, I think of new things to put in, and the whole composition to me is never a finished product. It takes a lot of time for me, too. I’ve gone through about 100 different mashups just to pick 15. In the end, you hope you have enough to make an album, but yeah. There are plenty of songs that you don’t hear and I think that’s something that’s interesting. Most of what you see is not all that went into it.
Where does an Andrew Kang mashup begin?
Well first of all, when thinking about mashups, what I do is I listen to a couple hours of music and I write down or pick out certain points in each song that would be great for bass line, or melody portion, or something like that. Once I pick out these independent parts and have a list of them with all their BPMs [beats per minute], then I organize all the songs and piece it together like a puzzle. But where it starts is just listening to music for a long time and organizing my thoughts. It’s way too difficult to just mash as you go.
I’ve noticed a theme in your work is that you have a lot of new hip-hop mashed with rock classics. Is this intentional, or something you like to do?
For me, since I’m still pretty young and my background is just what I’ve listened to, I have a pretty diverse taste, and the thing about having so many modern songs is that I want it to be something definitive of the time and what I was listening to at the time. It documents my musical tastes at a moment. The mashups I like to make are upbeat and fun so you can really get into it. My mashups come from this rock-and-roll background, so when you listen to my songs I want you to hear them as a rock song. But each album I make I try to do something different. The last album had no rock in it.
Three rapid fire questions now: Name a few favorite artists.
Modest Mouse, the Faint, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Favorite artists to sample?
I would say Jay-Z. The way that he formulates his raps really helps mashup artists.
Favorite artists you would never sample?
Probably Bright Eyes.
So about the album, it’s called Panic and Paranoia, The Catastrophic Mixdown. A big title for sure. Where’d you come up with it?
I came up with the theme that when I named my albums, I wanted to associate an emotion or feeling with it. So when I named this album, what I wanted to have was when people listened to it, they’d say ‘Wow, I’d never conceive of this song being mashed up this way.” Just kind of a collage of a lot of music people like.
So where is the catastrophe in the album?
The first name of the album was just The Catastrophic Mixdown. It took me maybe four or five months to come up with all those songs, and I was trying to mix them up and make it all work, and it was so catastrophic because my programs were crashing all the time, the computer couldn’t handle it. It was catastrophic. But in the end the product turned out great.
Mac or PC?
I use a Mac. I use Garage Band, and a lot of people expect me to use something a little more advanced. The thing is, you don’t really need much besides a good ear [to be a mashup artist] and you can make tons of music. Garage Band gives you an easy to use interface. Justice made almost their entire album on Garage Band. It’s just a tool, and of course there are limitations. There’s a lot of music software I wish I could use.
So what’s the response been like so far for your album?
It’s been great. I’ve been mixing for a couple years now, and in the beginning mashups weren’t flowing that well. A lot of my friends from home have heard me throughout the whole process and they haven’t seen a lot of the work I’ve put into this album, so they were surprised at the end and really liked it. Now I’m starting to hit my stride a bit more, and still trying to search for a “sound,” and it that sense this has been a fun time to explore and experiment and so far the reviews have been good—it keeps me going.
Well, speaking of working here, what’s NU life been like for you? Making time for music?
Well I’m in Beta Theta Pi, and I do some sports broadcasting for WNUR. It’s actually very difficult to find some time to sit down at the computer. It can take a whole day to come up with an idea for one song. Here [unlike the summer] it’s hard for me to find that free time, but I’m working on it.
Last thing I want to do is a random word association game: Name a song you like.
“Float on” by Modest Mouse.
Now, name a song to mash it up with.
Let’s say “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine.
We’ll be waiting for it.