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Artist Spotlight Q & A

Trifonic

The following QA with Trifonic was conducted in April 2008 by spinmeister.

Trifonic is brothers Brian and Laurence Trifon, based in San Francisco, CA. Trifonic was born in 2004, at a time when Brian was finishing his music degree at USC and Laurence was working as a business consultant in San Francisco. After graduating, Brian went to work as a programmer and guitarist for electronic artist BT.

Their busy schedules didn’t allow them much time to record together, but they did manage to create some well-received remixes they published at ccMixter, where all three ended up in the winner’s circle in three ccMixter remixing contests.

In 2007 they began working on their debut album, Emergence, which was released in February 2008.


spin: Hi Brian and LT. First of all, thanks for taking the time for this interview. It must be pretty exciting times, now that your debut album “Emergence” is completed and available. How did the two of you first get into making music?

Brian: I took up guitar when I was 10. I had big dreams for becoming the next Steve Vai guitar hero, but it never quite panned out. I studied jazz guitar in college and became interested in electronic music, film music and the technical side of music production. I put my dreams of guitar-domination off to the side, although I am considering posting a face-melting shred guitar video on youtube some day.

spin: (laughs) that would be very cool indeed. If you were going to record that monster shred tomorrow, which one of your guitars and which one of your amplifiers would you use for that one?

Brian: To stay true to the monster shred genre and maintain a certain level of 80’s cred, I think I would use my 7-string Ibanez Universe guitar and probably my Digitech GSP-2101, through a Carvin tube power amp into a Marshall 4x12 cabinet. I would have to put on my mullet wig too!

spin: (laughs) 7 string and mullet wig! - And you, LT?

LT: Actually that’s MY mullet wig… but you can borrow it. - I grew up playing piano and then drums. But my first musical love was hip-hop. I started writing raps when I was about 10 years old and was basically performing from that point on. I was in a couple local hip-hop groups before Trifonic and performed a lot throughout the Bay Area. Hip-hop gradually led me to electronic music. It’s funny, Brian and I started at very different points on the musical spectrum but eventually our tastes converged. And once we realized that, we started working together.

spin: LT, I’d guess your piano experience comes in handy, even when working with hardware and software synths, but are you still banging on the drums sometime, or have you migrated entirely to being a loopster?

LT: I’m pretty much a loopster now. Aside from lyrics and song-writing, and a bit of synth work, I spend most of my time on sound design.

spin: Brian, any other instruments than computers and guitars in your arsenal?

Brian: I play a bit of bass and I enjoy messing with analog synths. The computer is really an essential instrument for both of us, too. Editing and designing sounds is really at the core of our compositional process.

spin: So how does the compositional process work between the two of you?

LT: I like creating pads and textures out of different sounds in Logic. I just keep adding to the FX chain until I get a sound I like. If I have an idea for melodies or arrangements, I’ll sketch them out. Otherwise I just pass them to Brian and say, “Here you go, work your magic.” Either way, Brian’s the one taking things to the next level as far as programming and production goes. After he’s taken a stab at things, I’ll step back in and we work together on the final arrangement. Our workflow is basically: someone kick things off, let Brian go absolutely nuts, and then pick the best parts and fine-tune them.

Brian: In terms of workflow, I tend to dive in and go crazy with whatever materials I have and generate as many ideas as possible. I like to improvise and record too much material and do every treatment/processing I can think of. I sift through the ideas after I am done recording them and throw out more than 50% of it. I find it impossible to get anything done if I am too worried about making something “good” too early in the creative process. I never have a shortage of musical ideas, but that doesn’t mean that all of my ideas are good! The more musical ideas I explore and let out, even if they are terrible, the more good ones come about. There is no shame in all of the failed or crappy ideas because nobody ever hears them. All that counts is the ideas that we use.

spin: (laughs) fortunately disk space is pretty inexpensive these days! What musical hardware and software would you count amongst your favorites and what is it that you like most about it?

Brian: Other than guitars, I think the Access Virus TI is fantastic. It is a great sounding synth and it is incredibly versatile and has one of my favorite digital filters. I also really love our Roland SH-09, which is very warm and has a beautiful analog filter. Recently I’ve been messing with a used Emu E6400 Ultra sampler, which sounds nasty (in a good way) when I clip its D/A converters. It also has really expressive morphing filters, which are a nice way to add some modulation or movement to a sound. In terms of software Mac G5 running Logic Pro is the most important piece of gear in our studio. Logic has incredible built-in effects as well as my favorite physical modeling synth, Sculpture.

LT: I also love the M-Audio Microtrack. We use it to capture a lot of the ambient sounds that end up in our tracks. It’s a great portable device that we can take anywhere — around the house, in the neighborhood, on the bus, etc.

spin: What’s the strangest real world sound you have recorded with your M-Audio MicroTrack and used in your album? And what kind of processing (if any) did you do to it? In which song should we listen for that?

Brian: I was walking around our neighborhood with MicroTrack and I recorded a dog barking. I ended up time-stretching the bark into a long groaning sound. We put that in the beginning and middle of Terminal B. The stretched bark really has a haunting quality to it, which fits in well with the abandoned building vibe of the track.

spin: In addition to manipulating the heck out of that dog’s vocalizations, you also have some real nice human vocal tracks in a few songs. Who performed those?

LT: Amelia June sings on “Broken” and “Lies.” Christina Courtin, who happens to be our cousin, appears on “Sooner or Later.” And our good friend David Forest sings on “Good Enough.”

spin: Just curious, does Trifonic ever perform live?

Brian: We will….. soon! That is the next step.

spin: So that’s something to look forward to. — To change topics a bit, how did you first get involved with remixing?

LT: Through ccMixter. I saw a post about the Wired Freestyle Remix contest on a message board and checked out the site. That was in 2005. The rest, as they say, was history.

spin: So was ccMixter the first public appearance of the “Trifonic” brand?

LT: Pretty much. We had licensed a couple tracks before our “Backside!” track hit ccMixter, but that was more behind the scenes.

spin: You have a bit of a legendary status from those early days at ccMixter since all three of your ccMixter remixes ended up in the winner’s circle of the first three ccMixter contests and are still amongst the most recommended remixes on the site. What are your memories of creating those remixes, and the reaction they received?

Brian: It was really encouraging. Back in 2005, LT was so busy working in SF and I was literally working around the clock in BT’s studio in LA, so we never had time to focus our attention on Trifonic. The contest provided a real deadline and goal for us to try and actually complete something. Once we saw the great response to Backside, we started to think about ways that we could turn Trifonic into out main gig and not just a hobby on the side.

LT: While we worked in a common studio for the album, all the ccMixter remixes were done long-distance. At the time Brian was in Los Angeles and I was in San Francisco. So we were sending a lot of files back and forth to get those remixes done. It was really nice to finally be in the same place when we recorded Emergence.

spin: Yeah, I know, long distance collaboration is challenging. From what I understand, you have put sample packs from your album “Emergence” into the Commons. So Trifonic will join artists like Nine Inch Nails, DJ Vadim, Bucky Jonson, Brad Sucks. in giving releasing stems from your new album under Creative Commons licensing. With traditional record companies usually being so closed and protective of their intellectual property, why are you taking this open approach to your art?

LT: I think artists are starting to recognize a lot of people don’t want to just listen to music, they want to interact with it. And artists are recognizing that a lot of good things can come from that. Brian and I obviously enjoy remixing, so we want to allow people to experiment with our music.

spin: I’m definitely looking forward to the samples from your album! — As you know, ccMixter is sponsored by the Creative Commons, who are the authors and maintainers of the Creative Commons licenses and provide tools for artists to share their work while still maintaining some rights of their choosing to those works.- You are in an interesting dual position of being on both sides of the remixing equation, because of your experience in remixing other artist’s work and now you are about to publish some of your original work for other remixers to use. How would you describe the impact the creative commons open licensing approach has on you as artists and what are you hoping to gain from it in the future?

LT: A community like ccMixter couldn’t exist without a licensing system like the one CC has developed. Without CC licenses, I don’t think any of those remix contests would have happened. It just would have been too complicated legally to get labels and artists to buy in. So in that sense, the impact of CC has been huge for Trifonic. The three remix contests ended up being great promotion for us. We’ve had music supervisors and ad agencies contact us because they heard one of our ccMixter remixes. I still find that pretty amazing.

spin: That is very cool indeed, and it goes to show, that non-commercial sharing and collaboration can be consistent with having professional and commercial ambitions. So I guess ccMixter has been and will be rather significant in your plans for making your tracks available for remixing?

LT: Well, the ccMixter site is basically THE place where we’re making the tracks available for remixing. So it’s very significant.

spin: So what’s up next for Trifonic and for each of you individually?

Brian: We are going to put together a rocking live show, continue to create more new music and really try to get more composition and sound design work in the fIlm, TV, advertising and video game worlds. Other than that I’m doing some guitar session work for video game composer Jesper Kyd and continually searching for the best coffee in the SF bay area.

LT: Global domination, basically.

spin: (laughs) I think you’re off to a good start there - any parting words, before I let you go?

Brian: Thanks to the community at ccMixter for all the inspiring remixes and support! We wouldn’t be here without ccMixter… seriously, that was our first real step as Trifonic.

LT: Yes, thank you for all the encouragement and inspiration! I can’t wait to see what folks do with the Emergence multi-tracks.

spin: On behalf of ccMixter, thank you very much for taking the time for this interview and for the stems from your album. And our very best wishes for wild success with your album and your live performances!