WATCH OUT FOR SNAKES | 'Encounter' - An Interview
Watch out for Snakes is 8-bit chipwave from Atlanta geek Matt Baum. Layering NES chip sounds, Watch Out For Snakes creates darkly energetic tracks that pay homage to old video games and 80s films without taking things too seriously.
(credit) - DNA Lounge
2020 was a rough year for everyone. For Baum, it included the loss of his father to cancer, a hold on Terminus Retrowave - his newly founded Atlanta live event collective, and the cancellation of a European tour that would have been anchored by the landmark chip/vgm fest Chipwrecked (Bornholm, DK).
Turning inward, Baum dedicated his quarantine time toward self-reflection, ultimately deciding in Nov 2020 to pursue his music full-time and renewing his mission to grow retro--inspired music in the South. While coordinating regular, socially-distanced Atlanta artist meetups to plan out Terminus Retrowave’s future, Baum has continued writing and performing, bringing his high-energy stage show to the livestream world via pioneering events such as the first Synth Valley Stream Fest and Wonderville NYC’s NYE Minecraft Party.
Forged has been watching this bundle of Neon energy ply his trade from afar and couldn't wait to interview him, such an inciteful interview, take a look!
Thank you very much for chatting with Forged today, and Congratulations on your new album ‘Reaper’ how do you think it’s received so far?
First, thanks for sitting down with me, Ashley. Appreciate everything you’re doing with Forged as well as the opportunity to share a bit about my musical journey!
Reaper is an evolving experiment for me. I wrote it as an homage to the Red Rising series of books by Pierce Brown, which I adore and highly recommend to anyone who appreciates good storytelling in sci-fi. I approached the album as an exercise in film scoring, sound-tracking a few scenes and characters from the first part of book one with an intent to score additional scenes and characters later this year.
My only real goals with Reaper were to challenge myself to write in a different way with slightly more orchestral arrangements, create something musical for the Red Rising fans, and get a “thumbs up” from Pierce Brown. Given that, the reception’s been great – Pierce reacted positively on social media to the album, the Red Rising fans have been really appreciative of the album and seem hungry for more tracks, and I feel like I’ve executed what I set out to accomplish musically.
What do you think is the most distinctive aspect of the music you create?
My “signature sound” comes from the particular blend of chiptune and synth elements that I use in all my tracks. I purposefully limit myself to 8-bit sounds derived from the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) for a majority of my instrumentation, but unlike traditional chiptune, I enjoy supplementing those 8-bit sounds with an analog synth I sometimes use for leads and pads, a 707 drum machine, and some delay and reverb effects that aren’t achievable with the NES’ audio chip. It took me years through a variety of different music projects pre-dating Watch Out For Snakes to develop this sound and because I feel like it’s uniquely me, I don’t really anticipate putting it down anytime soon.
How do you think your sound has developed until now?
I’ve always been drawn to minimal synth sounds. Some of the artists that have inspired me over the years are Atom and His Package, Reggie and the Full Effect, Postal Service, and We are Wolves – all musicians that have immediately identifiable, signature sounds using minimal synth elements. Coming up playing synth in the hardcore/punk scene, I did a lot of experimenting with different synths, going back and forth from hard synths to virtual synths and trying different forms of synthesis, but I’ve always felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available when synthesizing a new sound.
The turning point for me came in 2008, when I decided to tap into my video game roots and limit my synthesis to the NES’ 2A03 sound chip. That decision has allowed me to focus more on the song writing – finding freedom within a framework.
Tell us about your creative process, how long would it take for you to lay down a track?
Most of my best song writing comes when I’m out and about, living life away from my studio. I find inspiration in other media and the world around me and when an idea comes upon me, I’ve learned to immediately pull out my phone and sing/hum/beatbox that idea into my phone’s voice memo app. Then, when I feel like I’m in the right mental state to actually produce, I’ll review all those memos and just start working on the idea that seems like it will come together most quickly.
Some tracks have been really easy and have come together in 24 hours, while others may take years. I find that a lot of the time, a track that I wrote and maybe wasn’t feeling at that particular point in time may actually end up being something I fall in love with again many months later. For example, some of the tracks from UPGRADE were compilations of other rejected song ideas I’d written in previous bands I’ve been in. You never know what you’re going to be able to use later, which is why I try to save everything I’ve ever written.
Who have been your musical inspirations growing up? Has that changed as the years have gone by?
Growing up, I took a lot of musical cues from my parents and my uncle. I was raised on ELO, David Bowie, Genesis, The Monkees, The Ventures, Fleetwood Mac, and Blondie, but also spent a ton of time as a kid listening to the radio, where I fell in love with groups like Depeche Mode, Aha, New Order, and Nine Inch Nails.
As a kid I also played a ton of video games and was moved by soundtracks to games such as Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest, Final Fantasy IV & VI, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Chrono Trigger. I would even pick out the themes to a lot of these games on my family’s piano, which was my first realization that I could actually play tunes without sheet music. As the years went by, I fell into pop-punk, emo, hardcore, and British indie rock like Bloc Party, Test Icicles, Arctic Monkeys, and We Have Band. Nowadays, I find inspiration in groups like Sparks, College, SURVIVE, and Future Islands in addition to all the 70s and 80s artists I grew up on.
If there was one thing you had the power to change about the music industry what would it be? Why?
I think the emphasis that streaming service algorithms have placed on singles and releasing constantly has created a “quantity over quality” mantra. In the old days, you’d be lucky to see an artist you liked release an album every year, but now I look around and see artists releasing albums every month. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I feel like this kind of noise cheapens music overall and makes it difficult for listeners to locate the gems in all the chaff. I still prefer to listen to full albums that have some conceptual arc to them and while I’ve spent the last several months experimenting with the single approach, I’ll probably be going back to focusing on full-length albums because I feel like there’s more artistry and thoughtfulness in that approach.
What do you hope your listeners take away from the music you create?
I create the music that I like and that I want to listen to so my real hope is to be able to connect with other people that appreciate the same music. And while I write tracks with specific events, feelings, and themes in mind, I purposefully like to leave things vague so that listeners can draw their own meaning from each song.
My favourite aspect of music though is performing it live and feeling that reciprocal energy between me and the crowd. Seeing people dancing and head-banging to my music is the greatest experience so most of all, I just want to write music that facilitates that connection so I can continue to share in that experience with my listeners.
What is the one track in your entire discography that you’re most proud of? Why?
It’s not uncommon for me to listen back to my albums and wonder “how the hell did I come up with that arrangement?” which is always a great feeling. But I think the track that’s my current favourite is my recent single “Fight Those Invisible Ninjas.” It incorporates song writing elements from my entire musical background with video game instrumentation, strong melody, a high-energy punk tempo, and some badass hardcore-style breakdowns. I’m really proud of the song itself as well as the music video, which I shot/edited entirely DIY and released in quarantine. I feel like it captures everything about who I am musically.
Can you tell us anything about any current and future projects in the pipeline?
I’m currently working on the next album, which probably won’t release until 2022, but been keeping busy in the meantime doing remixes for a lot of artists in the scene that I respect, contributing tunes to the first video game I’ve been a part of, a space shooter called Techbeat Heart, planning future WOFS tour dates, and starting up a monthly concert series here in Atlanta, Georgia (US) called Terminus Retrowave, that I’m hoping will help evolve Atlanta’s local synth scene even further and make Atlanta a more attractive destination for touring synth artists.
I’m also working on a release for Better Safe Than Safari, a synthpunk project I started up with a bassist friend of mine prior to WOFS. We’ve had a full album’s worth of tracks just sitting for over a decade because we’ve both been so busy doing other things and we decided to get off our asses and actually put this album out finally because these tracks are too good not to share.
Are there any Artists on the scene that you’d love to collaborate with?
I think there are some obvious choices both because we have similar instrumentation and influences and because I respect them massively – Waveshaper, Lukhash, Street Cleaner, Arcade High, Chipzel, and Bitshifter. But I also enjoy subverting expectations and find that the most interesting collaborations often come from mashing up artists with completely different styles. To that end, working with artists like The Midnight or Dance With The Dead would be awesome. I also would really enjoy working with Glitbiter because I think she’s one of the most underrated vocalists in the scene.
What is the one guilty pleasure you cannot live without?
Haha, guilty pleasures are hard for me to think of because I don’t generally feel too guilty about doing the things I love. Except in the food department, because most of what I enjoy eating is terrible for me. Nothing beats a good cheeseburger and we have a horror-themed burger spot here in Atlanta called Grindhouse that is toward the top of my list – my go-to order there is a double cheeseburger and an Oreo milkshake. I’m sure my arteries hate me after every time I eat there, but sometimes you just gotta live, you know?
What do you reckon has been the most cherished memory of your career to date?
Each project I’ve been in has had its standout moment and it’s hard to rank them. I get nostalgic about playing raucous basement shows in my first band, a hardcore outfit called Audrey. In my days playing in synthpunk band The Drownout, my favorite memory was playing Warped Tour two years in a row. In Watch Out For Snakes, it was going on tour with Glitch Black and Gregorio Franco in 2019 – the Turbodrive (San Francisco) and Echosynthetic Fest (Atlanta) shows on that tour were particularly memorable because of the crowd receptions.
What has been the best advice you’ve been given in life?
Make the most of the time you have. No one knows how much time they have here on this earth and life’s too short to spend it doing things that you don’t love. Quitting my day job in 2020 and pursuing music full-time is how I’m trying to take this advice to heart.
Message for your fans?
Just a heartfelt thank you. Yes, I’ve only ever written music for myself, but again, performing live is my true passion and the reason I enjoy it so much is because of the fans who come out to shows and throw down with me there. I know that I make an extremely niche blend of music that’s not for everybody, which is what makes me even more grateful to the fans that appreciate it and keep coming back for more. You’re the best and I can’t wait to party with everyone again in person!
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