118. Interviews – William Lamkin on “Not to Scale” and the Launch of Mt. Meteor Records
Last Friday, June 19, William Lamkin released his debut album, Not to Scale. Just a few weeks prior he and colleague Gunner Basinger launched their independent label, Mt. Meteor Records. Will is a friend and former classmate from the University of Louisville where he has now completed a bachelor’s in composition. He is also a classical violist and keyboardist to the indie rock band, Quality Cable. It was great catching up with Will recently as he and I discussed his latest adventures. Will is a thoughtful person whose responses have much to say, not only about his own music, but also about how music in general fits into the twenty-first century. Especially in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic and calls for racial equality, his insights come as welcome relief and speak to a brighter future. Take a few minutes to read my interview with Will below; then head over to Bandcamp to checkout his new album, Not to Scale, and all the offerings on Mt. Meteor.
What was your inspiration behind Not to Scale? When the pandemic canceled your senior recital, was your first thought, “let’s turn it into an album”? I think the main reason I wanted to create the album was for my own sense of closure. Of course, the pandemic was a shock to the system—it literally did feel like a rug being pulled out from underneath me. My recital was going to be March 25 (lockdown started less than two weeks before that), so I was at the busiest, most stressful moment of the performance cycle. For a good day or two it wasn’t clear whether it would still be happening or not, so I was still frantically trying to reschedule with everyone, which is tough when you have almost twenty performers. After it was canceled, of course, I was crushed and disappointed. For music majors especially, I feel like the recital is such a climatic, defining moment, and one you start thinking about the day you first step in the school. The album was my way of trying to salvage that. I wanted to let people listen to my music, but more importantly, I wanted an artifact for myself to represent this period of my life.
What does the title, Not to Scale, suggest? How about the cover art and the red Zaku? As a Gundam fan myself, I’m very intrigued. The cover is actually fairly old, I took the picture a couple years ago and envisioned it as an album cover for something way down the line, so I just picked it back up for this project. I’ve always been fascinated with the aesthetic of toys taken out of the context they’re from. Especially character figures, like Gundam plastic models, since their source material emphasizes the danger and power they hold in anyone’s hands. Placing them outside, amongst plants much larger than they are, pacifies them—more like little statuettes than anything else. I think a lot of my music is about that kind of juxtaposition and recontextualization.
Can you talk about the stylistic diversity of music on Not to Scale? The opener, a piano ballad called Through Anyone’s Eyes (But Mine), reminds me of Dave Brubeck whereas the second track, Framing, suggests the music of his contemporaries working in free jazz. I love so many different kinds of music! Despite the classical academic background, I would actually say of all genres, classical music influences my music the least, haha. The album is a collection of recordings from almost four years, so I did have a lot of time to experiment in different styles. But rather than being just experiments, all of these are equally a part of me. Just like on the album, jazz, electronic, classical, and pop music are different parts of how I express myself. I was aware of this even before beginning college actually! The track Different Treasures I actually began writing the summer before I began college. That whole piece and its title were about how I treasured both jazz and classical music in my musical language and world.
So, do you consider your music “classical”? And, what is classical music’s place in the twenty-first century? Classical music is a genre like any other, but I think one that needs to figure out its relationship to the present more than others. I think there’s a lot of conflict between “classical music, the historical institution” and “experimental New Music” scenes. Much has been said about how music pedagogy and orchestral repertoire could be reformed to be more inclusive. With New Music, I’m glad that those in the scene have been able to create growing and healthy communities (such as New Music Gathering and festivals like Nief-Norf), but I still find New Music, the genre, extremely exclusive to academic circles. I’d like to see more New Music interacting with communities outside of universities and festivals. No, I do not consider my music “classical” in an overarching sense! Sure there are classical elements to the music I write and various classical influences, but I think it is a smaller part of my identity than I would be comfortable using to label myself. My music is too fluid to limit myself to one label, I think, and part of the reason I’ve been considering just labeling myself a musician as opposed to even a composer. Do I really need to call myself a composer, songwriter, producer, or performer, depending on the context? These are just skills I have as a musician.
How has your work in different genres influenced your compositional voice? Can you speak specifically about your experiences with Quality Cable, including tours and shows? Quality Cable is so important to me—definitely a defining part of who I am as a musician today. I think the main way it influenced me is in emphasizing how much the “one and done” performance model of classical music really frustrates me. With classical composition, the prevailing performance practice makes it very hard to receive more than one performance of any given piece. Being in a band, on the other hand, I learned what it was like to build sets and let music grow over time. Music just feels so much more alive that way. Being a part of a dedicated group of collaborators is so fulfilling and lets you form the strongest bonds that will last the rest of your musical life. This kind of personal relationship to the music I was writing and the performances it allowed definitely showed me that I could be an artist under a different mold from what school taught me.
What are some important things you learned as an undergraduate at the University of Louisville and also during your semester abroad at the Music Academy of Kraków in Poland? Honestly the greatest thing that college has taught me was how to learn. Many of the classes I took throughout my undergrad, both in Louisville and Kraków, were very project and research-oriented. Lecture classes had their research papers, electronic music classes asked you to learn different technologies and languages, and even acoustic music composition had me flipping through books to find proper notation and quirks of individual instruments. Every time I would work with an ensemble it was a new configuration. I didn’t let myself just adapt my comfort zones to whatever I was working on. I think that’s part of why you hear such a large variance among my works. I really like understanding everything that I find myself in, so I love sitting down and trying to figure out every little thing about what I’m interested in. That’s what I think I’ll take with me post-graduation as I continue to learn and teach myself new things.
How is the “college experience” reflected in the music of Not to Scale? In particular, Late seems to suggest the panic of oversleeping and rushing to class. I love that you thought that! That definitely happened to me way too many times in college, haha. Late for me was more about the experience of staying up late in the night, when everyone else is asleep except for you. The world seems so much smaller then. I like to work a lot at night, cram-writing for composition lessons or studying for tests before bed. When I would get writer’s block, I used to go out for walks on campus when no one was out, and it’s surreal and calming at the same time. Even if you’re awake it feels like a dream.
How about video game music and popular culture? Kay Cathodic reminds me of the music we might hear in a Nintendo game. Do you have any plans to write music for video games or other commercial music—film scores, for example? Kay Cathodic is inspired by video games and has a ton of video game samples! That track is a tribute to Japanese rhythm games and the shibuya-kei genre that inspired it. Shibuya-kei (listen to Fantasma by Cornelius) was a genre that uniquely turned sampling into an element of pop music, so I decided my way of honoring that was to sample some of my favorite Japanese music from that genre and era. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever made! In terms of scoring, I’m not sure if I could see myself going into commercial music. Even with the promise of good pay, having to write any music for school that I wasn’t personally interested in was honestly depressing! That and I don’t like deadlines. That said I could see myself writing for a multimedia project if I was given a lot of creative freedom or was an integral part of the creative process. One of my biggest inspirations in high school that actually influenced me to start writing music was Toby Fox, the lone creator of Undertale. He was primarily a musician/composer prior to creating Undertale but developed an entire game where his music played an essential role in its identity. To be a part of something like that, or other idiosyncratic video game projects like what Yuu Miyake did for the Katamari Damacy soundtrack, would be a dream.
What are your plans post-graduation? Can you talk about Mt. Meteor Records? Describe the mission, key people, early successes in these first two months, etc. I haven’t announced it publicly yet but I actually am planning on going to graduate school in the fall! You’ll be hearing more about that soon. In the meantime, Mt. Meteor Records has been a fun project to work on. Run by myself and Gunner Basinger, it is an independent music label in Louisville, KY, and one focused on building a community around music that’s harder to fit into the local music scene. There’s not many opportunities for electronic and experimental musicians to play full sets, so our primary focus has been on those genres first and foremost. Our first record, Mt. Meteor, Vol. 1, was released May 1 and includes a compilation of eight tracks from different local electronic artists. It did fairly well, and I believe it gave some new audience to each of the artists. That was our goal, so we are more than happy with it! We’ve been accumulating more releases for the coming months—my own Not to Scale being one of them. We’re hoping to release a lot of good music this year!
What has the impact of the pandemic been on the local music scene? The lack of being able to play live music is devastating. I’ve attended and performed in a couple livestreams and, although they are fun, nothing can really replicate the experience of live music. One of the worst parts is the loss of live shows as income which is the main way to make money as a musician now since recordings have been devalued so much by streaming. Luckily we’ve been able to have some success from digital sales at Mt. Meteor, but I’m sure this has been especially devastating for bands that had been preparing for tours. I hope that live shows will be able to happen before too long, but it seems impossible until the pandemic is over considering the live show’s job is to get as many people crowded into the same room as possible.
Also what about racial justice? Why did you choose Juneteenth as your release date, and is there a social message to the music on Not to Scale? The main reason I released the album on Juneteenth was because of Bandcamp’s promotion for that day—a portion of all sales went to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. There isn’t any inherent message of racial justice in my music, but I do entirely stand for racial justice and movements like Black Lives Matter. As a Filipino person, I’ve experienced firsthand the ways music scenes (including academia) can be very exclusionary to people of color. I know what it feels like to be the only non-white musician on a setlist or to be used as diversity for a program. So I will always stand for giving voices to minorities. There absolutely needs to be racial justice and it is beyond time that needs to happen!
Finally is there anything else you would like to say about Not to Scale or Mt. Meteor Records? That’s it, thank you so much for the interview, Jackson, and thanks to anyone who has enjoyed my music! If you haven’t done so already, be sure to visit Bandcamp and take a listen!
***Musician friends, if you are doing something special and would like it to appear here at MusicCentral, please contact me to arrange an interview!***
About Jackson. Jackson Harmeyer is a freelance concert annotator based in Louisville, KY. He serves as Director of Scholarship to the Sugarmill Music Festival held each May in Alexandria, LA. A project he is developing for the 2020 festival, “A Scholarly Presentation in Lecture and Music: Solomon Northup in the Central Louisiana Sugarhouse,” has been awarded a prestigious Rebirth Grant by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. Jackson earned an M.M. in Music History and Literature from the University of Louisville with a thesis entitled, “Liminal Aesthetics: Perspectives on Harmony and Timbre in the Music of Olivier Messiaen, Tristan Murail, and Kaija Saariaho.” There he was the recipient of the Gerhard Herz Music History Scholarship and was employed at the Dwight Anderson Memorial Music Library where he did archival work for the unique Grawemeyer Collection which houses scores, recordings, and documentation for over five thousand entries by the world’s leading contemporary composers. He has shared his research at the American Musicological Society South-Central Chapter’s annual meetings in Asheville, NC and Sewanee, TN; the University of Tennessee Contemporary Music Festival in Knoxville, TN; the Music by Women Festival in Columbus, MS; and the University of Louisiana System Academic Summit in Thibodeaux, LA. Aside from his studies, Jackson is a composer, choral singer, music blogger, avid reader, and award-winning nature photographer. Learn more at www.JacksonHarmeyer.com.
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