To be honest, this interview was one I found to be quite challenging. The mind of UK-based producer and composer Rival Consoles is one that is brimming with an array of interests, to the point where they flow into his music thanks to the thought-provoking themes we’re welcome to. His worldview has helped create the kind of experiences that feel otherworldly as if you’re immersed in a different kind of art form that’ll have you stumbling on your words the minute you try to explain it. "Them Is Us" served as my personal gateway into the world of Rival Consoles (real name Ryan Lee West) and is a great introduction for those who aren’t familiar with his works.
Over the course of his 10+ year career, he has challenged listeners with his IDM-influenced sound that continuously oscillates between calming and hard-edged. His albums such as Persona, Articulation, and Overflow highlight the manner in which various art disciplines such as film, design, and dancing shape his sound.
Armed with analog gear and unlikely inspirations, Rival created his upcoming album Now Is during quarantine, and for this one we had the opportunity to catch up with him to discuss his creative process, the reasons for the enigmatic name, the streaming era, and much more. The album comes out on the 14th of October via Erased Tapes Records, however we’ve already been blessed with the lead single "Now Is" which you can listen to as you dive into the mind of Ryan.
When you first started to create music, you were predominantly a guitarist and played in a few bands - and then you switched to music production. What made you so drawn to electronic music and pursue a career as a producer instead of primarily being a guitarist and/or playing in bands?
At first I used the computer to sketch out ideas for bands etc, but over time I got obsessed with just making music without anything else, especially because you can make something and hear it immediately, which was very exciting for me. I think also I am the kind of person who can sit alone for long amounts of time exploring ideas ever since I was a child, so this also suited my personality.
What would you say drives you to continuously create at this stage of your career compared to the early stages of Rival Consoles?
It is a bit strange because I have been making music for 15 years as Rival Consoles and released a lot of material in many formats, albums, EPs, remixes, TV score, film, ads. But I often feel like I haven’t really started to make music because there is just so much to explore. I feel what drives me these days is a better sense of judgment and awareness of taste/art in general.
On the subject, before 'Rival Consoles' you went by the stage name Aparatec. How did the new name Rival Consoles reflect the music and the direction you wanted to go into?
Hmmm, I mean I was very young 21 I think, so it wasn’t a deep, interesting meaningful thing, I just liked the implications of ‘Rival’ as it implies tension and consoles which is connected to music and technology in general seemed to be quite cool at the time. But of course I don’t like the name as much as other people might because band names tend to be pretty silly in general.
Generally speaking there are a few assumptions one could make about an individual based on their taste in music. From your experience what have you noticed about the people that are heavily drawn to your work?
The people that like my music seem to have a wide taste in music and are really committed to exploring art in general from what I have seen. I am very lucky that I seem to have a very loyal and patient listenership, who seems to deeply care about the material.
With the release of Howl in 2015, you decided to start releasing projects with more of a conceptual approach, what made you go in this direction?
I think more maturity in general as I was getting older and gaining more experience and awareness of art. But also learning how to express myself with the tools I was using because you can spend 2 years with a single piece of music and only after start to express yourself with it, sometimes it happens quickly for people, but for me, it happened more gradually, after thousands of hours of exploring and composing.
At this point, in which way would your music and your creative process be different should you strip analog equipment from your arsenal and worked in the box primarily?
As I do that sometimes it’s more that with analog I improvise ideas and print them in (record them) and in that process, they become audio files which have a certain rigid/fixed quality - they can ofc be chopped up, pitched, destroyed layered, but basically this has become a big part of my workflow, so in the box even if you do this digitally it never quite works out the same for me, so I am not really talking about the sound exclusively but more the process and the way I move forward with ideas is very important.
I much prefer the sound of the prophet 8 compared to plugin versions for my own working - but I am not a purist about this at all and will love digital and analog combinations -for me it is the process that is very powerful and simplifies things.
We all know that the advancements in technology have made improvements in the way we make music and of course have widened access. Although what do you think rapid technological advancements have hindered when it comes to the process of creating music?
Well, I think it is incredible that so many options exist in bother hardware and in the box now - both digital and analog and all the helpful corrective/restorative plugins that exist it is like a different universe compared to when I started making music (even though it wasn’t that long ago!) but so there is a lot more sophisticated tools now for problem-solving and creativity - but the same issues remain about art which are almost a kind of eternal set of things, what to make? How to make it? To be wild? Gentle? Academic? Indie? Punk? to producers like X, Y Z? The general things you consider when making music are still present but perhaps emphasized in a new way. There is definitely a concern that too many tools and information about making can just not work for some artists.
For example, myself even though I know a lot about production my mind when making is kind of almost always concerned with the basics because I find just with that there is endless creative things to explore, not all is good or interesting but there is something in simple, bold, considered choices which inspires me. Which perhaps a young composer might overlook given the ocean of references that exist.
It's great to hear that you'll be releasing a new album this year! How does the title Now Is reflective of the kind of experience you're wanting to introduce to listeners?
The title is an incomplete statement “Now Is” This interests me because this record explores hopeful/darker themes and the many moods between. I like art that is open and not forcing a specific answer so the title reflects this flexible way of thinking.
What was the most challenging part of putting this album together?
Most of the music was made during the pandemic which of course was a very unknowable time for everyone and a lot of loneliness and stress crept into people’s lives about various things. This definitely had an effect although as I am a maker who wants to express a lot of things I think it made me generally make music that was more hopeful and colorful, especially as my previous record “overflow” was almost dystopian before the pandemic. In general, the difficulty is understanding the music and what it means in a time when there was less interaction and context.
Considering that you started releasing music before 2010, I'm curious to hear your thoughts on how the streaming era has changed the manner in which you release music compared to the 2010s.
Actually 2007! I think I have a benefit of releasing music before the streaming era took full force, in that I am not totally shaped/influenced by it, in the way that other artists who rely completely on streaming from say Spotify are. This is a kind of luxury I think but as the music industry moves so fast in all areas, I think you just have to be honest with yourself and for me I simply make all the time and share what existed me with the public, which means that my mind is less polluted by the politics of the online industry.
Throughout the years in which ways has your fascination with film informed how you create music?
I love film score, and the way music changes the way we feel and see images, I made a lot of Now Is to selections of film to inspire mood and a sense of environment. Sometimes making music feels like starting at a blank canvas, whereas music to picture immediately creates a starting point of ideas, which is very inspiring.
What does the flow state look like for you?
I don’t really have a specific conclusion to making etc, but in the best-case scenario I am excited by the ideas and they give way to other ideas that excite me, which as basic as that sounds is always the best feeling and not easy or common. My general approach is to make constantly almost like research, and so I don’t force things to be what I want, I let things happen and in certain moments things come together in a way that excites me.
A quote that's been impactful for you lately and how?
A great quote in general for makers for me is “you shouldn’t try to impress people, you should try to move them!”
featured image credit - Pawel Ptak