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Q & A: Outside The Academy

From the two singles we’ve heard of Outside The Academy’s, we know he’s onto something great. The one-man solo act—built solely of Pawel Cholewa—is a vivid expression of danceable disco, frenetic math-influenced rock and deceptively deep psychedelia. Follow yesterday’s Hand In Hand (Let’s Go) and Neanderthal before that, Outside The Academy is a forced to be reckoned with. We spoke with Cholewa about his studio happenings and why this is the only new music we’ll hear from him this year.

The sounds on offer are massive. Is it just you in the studio?

Yeah, just me. It was a pretty basic set-up for this one actually: a living room in the suburbs whilst in the process of moving house. I kept having to stop recording due to a neighbour’s lawnmower rumbling outside and interfering with the mic’s.

Talk about some of the gear in use on Hand In Hang (Let’s Go).

I used Ableton exclusively, an extensive range of sample packs for the drum beat, a variety of mic’s, an Alesis MIDI keyboard, I borrowed some equipment from Steve Tyssen who masters all of my music and plays bass in OTA live. I modulated and transposed the hell out my Gibson SG to create some of those dirty lo-fi bass sounds, and I used my Rickenbacker for all of the nicer layered clean guitar sounds. So I guess I still used a lot of instrumentation – it was just spliced, cut-up and modified extensively. Hand in Hand (Let’s Go) is, after all, a demented EDM song, I think?

You’ve mentioned this is the one and only single you’ll release this year? What’s the decision behind that?

The past few years have been pretty busy for OTA. I bit off more than I could chew with work, uni, relationships and music, and by the end of 2017 I became incredibly stressed with it all. This year I needed to prioritise some of my other goals, especially my PhD, which has taken a backseat for much too long and has suffered as a result. Plus I don’t have too many musical ideas that overly excite me right now, or that I’m desperate to finish quickly. Perhaps this newfound mentality has something to do with turning 30 this year. Who knows. We’ll see. But the rest of 2018 will probably be a little quieter for OTA in terms of music production.

The way you stack and build your sampling is incredible. How does that translate live?

With great difficulty. The live sound is way more stripped back. I have about two or three backing tracks for each song that are triggered on a loop station. The rest involves a lot of guitar layering, live bass and drums. OTA is currently a three-piece live.

Does Jordan Vasiliou of Dangerpenny still join the frenzy in the live show?

Of course! A large chunk of the drum sounds are played live in whichever way Jordan interprets the ‘feel’ of a song. A lot of the subtle electronic drum loops are still used in conjunction with Jordan’s live drumming though.

Speaking of live, do you see the studio and the stage versions of Outside the Academy as two unique entities?

Yes, I want both of them to sound different. I want to surprise live audiences who’ve heard the recordings with the improvisational freeform nature of the shows. I also like to try and surprise live audiences who then listen to the recordings and discover how layered, (overly) produced, and rigid the studio versions are. I’m really curious about that convergent middle ground between indie and electronic music. People are generally inclined to prefer one genre over another. I’m obsessed with that convergence or overlap between the two. I’m not married to either stage or studio versions, and perhaps it’s a copout to not give an audience what they expect, especially if they’re more familiar with a particular version of a track. Yet at the same time I don’t want to replicate or recreate anything I do perfectly, and as a live band we certainly try to mix things up to make each show a little different from the last.

Are you a perfectionist?

For sure. And that also relates to the last question a little bit. I’d say I’m more OCD than a perfectionist. Yes, I pedantically obsess over minor details that most people wouldn’t care about or notice, but I generally never do more than three takes of anything when recording. Yes, I usually revise at least ten mixes of every song to the point that the process drives me temporarily insane, but a lot of the time those mixes and recordings focus on a lo-fi, dirty or raw sound anyway…so there’s a hypocrisy or futility there. I try to perfect tones, effects, and the knowledge and quality of my gear and equipment, but every time we play or I record I aim to improvise as much as possible to make the experience as stimulating and crazy for myself as I can. Making the music that little bit more accessible or coherent for others is often an afterthought. Is that too self-indulgent? Probably. But all music is, really.

Written by Jake Wilton