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Conversations with yourself #5: The nerdcore edition

Written by Eric Ratcliffe on Tuesday, May 13 2008 and posted in Columns
Read on hemophiliacs as I interview one of the biggest names in nerdcore: Shael Riley. Everything from his extremely popular OC video game remixes to his new project, the grammar club, is discussed.

Eric: My first question is how does it feel to be the most downloaded oc remix artist?

Shael: It feels pretty great! OCReMix is where I cut my teeth on electronic composition; a lot of my music mentors and friends originate from and, in many cases, are still active in its community, so to have that distinction has been very flattering. It's a little ironic that it's for a joke tune, though, isn't it?

Eric: Where did the idea come from to cover umbrella for the nerdcore undercover album?

Shael: I didn't do it for the album originally. Z, of Hipster Please, asked me if he could use it when someone else who was slated to contribute a track didn't come through. At the time , it'd already been recorded and up on my MySpace for at least a week--I don't remember exactly how long now. I got the idea to do the cover because it's a great pop song. I didn't do it as a joke or anything. It's just a great composition.

Eric: How would you describe the nerdcore genre for those who don't know?

Shael: Shit, dude. I'm one of them. I think MC Frontalot has a sound that can be analyzed musically and taxonomized in terms of his vocal intonation and cadence as well as his backing instrumentals, but he now constitutes maybe one one thousandth of all artists who are calling themselves nerdcore. If nerdcore is characterized by the subject matter of its lyrics, I don't think we can reasonably call it a music genre. Music genres are characterized by musical elements. There may be some way to taxonomize music based on lyrical content, but I'm not sure what it's called. So, I don't know how to describe nerdcore anymore.

Eric: Where would you say you know the most about when it comes to pop culture?

Shael: I'm not a guru in any one area. I like, and have liked for as long as I can remember, pop music and video games; so, I have a good, working body of knowledge about them, but I'm probably less up-to-date on current and upcoming releases than most nerds. I'm way interested in game design theory and game development, though, as well as pop music analysis and study. I guess if I had to pick my strongest working body of consumer-end pop culture, it'd be video games by default, since it's the only facet of pop culture I keep up on actively. I still sometimes rely on my little brother to tell me when a new installment of a franchise I like is coming out, though. Music and pen-and-paper roleplaying games would tie for second, though I only hear about new developments in them from friends, and from White Wolf's site in the case of the latter. I'm a bit of a World of Darkness fan.

Eric: The grammar club is your side project with Beefy, Glenn Clase, Adam J and DJ Snider and its honestly one of the best albums i've heard in a long time. Do you find it easier to collaborate then be a solo artist?

Shael: Thanks! It's Adam Ruttan, not Adam J, and Glenn Case is no longer with us, but I'm really happy you like the music. Thank you for taking the time and effort to find and download it, and then to listen.

You give up some control when you collaborate but, for me, it's worth it if done with the right people; in exchange, you get access to performers, producers, writers and arrangers who can do things with your music that you can't. It's not an automatic thing, though; you have to communicate very precisely, and trust them to understand and build on your vision. Sometimes it doesn't work out. It's something I struggle with, but so far I can say I'm ready to accept it not working out sometimes, to have to go back and do it again, to re-open communication about a song or song segment after it's been recorded if it isn't sounding good, and sometimes, to declare a song that didn't come out quite the way I wanted after everyone's input "good enough," or to scrap it entirely. That's a big cost, but it's worth it to me because I'm not a good enough producer or instrumentalist to see through the vision I have for my compositions; I need the help of producers and instrumentalists who are better than me to make my compositions sound the way I want them to. So, short answer: no. I find it much harder to collaborate, but I get better results when I do.

Eric: And speaking of the grammar club, you guys have made such an amazing cd do you find that you'll be working together more depending on the success of the side project?

Shael: It's not a side project; it's my primary musical focus at this point. If I did another solo Shael Riley album, I'd want Adam to produce it and other people to play guitar, bass and drums on it; that would almost make it another Grammar Club album, wouldn't it?

We're creating a new album right now. I wasn't sure if I should use the verb "recording" there, since it's not the time-consuming bulk of our process--collaborative writing, logistical coordination and post-production take much more time than recording. Anyway, we're making a new one.

Eric: It seems you and Beefy work together a lot, would you say that its fun to work with him and that its easy to bounce idea's off each other?

Shael: I love working with Beefy. He takes the compositions I've written and expounds on them, lyrically and rhythmically, in ways I wouldn't have thought of, but are thematically and tonally conducive to what I want. That's exciting, to have access to someone like that! The way we work is pretty cut and dry--one of us has something he wants the other to do, and he wants that other to do it in whatever way he feels is best. Usually, I'll write a song, leave a space for Beefy and say "Beefy, rap here," and he'll do it and I'll be really happy with the results. Conversely, he'll ask me to sing or write a chorus to a song he's written, and I just go to it. There's not a lot of pre-recording idea bouncing; we just listen to what's already written, analyze and get down to business.

Eric: You seem to be more in tune with the rock part of nerdcore than the rap, which would you say is easier for you to right for?

Shael: Rock. I've dabbled in rap, and I enjoy it, but I grasp the melodic elements of music better than the rhythmic.

Eric: What video games do you see yourself playing lately? And do you read any comic books?

Shael: I just beat River City Ransom for the first time on Saturday. It was excellent! I picked up Brawl, and I like it, but, with my limited free time and no one readily available for a pick-up game, I don't get to play it very often--CPU and Internet matches just aren't what that game is about. I do, though, play Open Arena and Urban Terror for a few minutes almost every day.

I don't read any comic books.

Eric: And finally whats next for Shael Riley? please plug away.

Shael: New Grammar Club album is what I'm working on right now. We've also got a track in the upcoming Super Street Fighter II Turbo: HD Remix, and I've got a solo track in there as well. Other than that? There's a new season of Captain S in the works, and I think at some point I'd like to go to grad school. Health insurance would be cool too.

Shael's work can be be found in these locations:


Posted originally: 2008-05-13 03:29:40

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About the Author - Eric Ratcliffe

Eric Ratcliffe is the host of The Why I Love Comics podcast, as well as the writer of the long running and award winning webcomic New Comic Day! When not interviewing the biggest names in geek culture, Eric writes the occasional column about something he is enjoying or informing people about webseries, podcasts, gadgets or many other cool things. You can also find Eric on Email / twitter / facebook / youtube / steam / x-box live and many other social media avenues on the internet. 


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