Polyphonic Underground

Artist interview - Zitilites - 2020-02-03

Welcome to our first artist spotlight! We’re so glad you’re here.
Today we’ll be chatting with Zitilites about music production, synthwave, and making a record.

Zitilites composes a variety of electronic music from chiptune to synthwave.
He hails from Vejle, Danmark, and you can learn more about his music at zitilites.com

He’s a driving force for the synthwave collective Polyphonic Underground.
So, let’s get started!

Q: How did you get your start in music?

A: I've always been musically inclined, and inherited a lot of my tastes from my parents and older sister. We had a piano at home that I liked messing around with, picking up some tunes mostly by ear. I took up drums for a few years, then the keyboard (as piano was all booked).

I never could manage to keep up the discipline of practice though, so I've yet to become an actual player. In high school I took up guitar, but it wasn't until a few years back I really got into composing.

That happened when I took up the ukulele, and accidentally wrote a jingle for a business my sister was trying to start at the time. I then got bitten by composing, and started trying out different styles, until finally getting more into the electronic stuff I mostly do now :-)

Q: Where does the name Zitilites come from?

A: I struggled for a while to come up with a name that would fit the Synthwave style, but also not be too tied into that aesthetic. I finally realised it had been staring me in the face the whole time, as Zitilites is the name of my favourite album by Danish band Kashmir.

They, in turn, took their name from the Led Zeppelin song, so I thought it was almost poetic for me to repeat that. It's pronounced 'city lights', which is both very Synthwave, and also vague enough that it goes with other genres as well, I think :-)

Q: What drew you to Synthwave as a musical style?

A: I was introduced to it by a friend, but I think it was inevitable for me to get into it, really. Growing up in the 80's and 90's, I've always loved everything from the 80's back a lot more than contemporary music.

And the fact that it's something you can do on your own makes it perfect for me :-)

Q: Now let's talk about the record project a little. How did the Terrible Investments album get started?

A: Back in the late summer last year Turbo Vice wrote a tweet, asking for insight on how to get your own music on vinyl. As a vinyl fan myself, I was intrigued by the prospect, as that had long been a dream of mine as well. A lot of people joined the convo and a thread was created.

After a few people, me including, had investigated a bit, we found out that there are actually a lot of ways to make it happen, but with some caveats. It quickly turned into an idea about splitting the cost by making compilation with many artists.

That enables smaller artists like myself the chance to have a piece of their music pressed on vinyl, professionally packaged and everything, without having to pay a huge upfront cost, or requiring a guaranteed number of record pre-orders etc.

So the it quickly became focused around trying to create this self-funded, self-managed sort of community project, for a bunch of us crazy vinyl lovers that also make synth music ;-)

Q: What is the record about?

A: I think it was quite early on that a lot of us were talking about that classic 80's early 90's stock broker aesthetic. There's no tight correlation between the tracklist and the so-called 'Officewave' subgenre, as we were more about inclusion than a super-tight style.

So the name really came about because of the way it's completely self-funded, with no guaranteed sales. It may well be a terrible investment... And seeing as that fits perfectly with the stock broker theme, we just had to go with that :-D

While we do have a little back story to go with the style, it's really just about us smaller artists coming together and making something we wouldn't have had a chance to do alone ^_^

Q: What was the process of putting the record together?

A: Well, let me put it like this... At first, it was just a dream, lots of ideas and very ephemeral. A bit of research got a few of us hooked on the idea that it *might* just be possible. Then we got a bit more organised, and set up a sort of submission and voting system.

As mentioned, we tried to keep it very inclusive and democratic, so everyone could have a chance. Once we got further into it though, we had to cut down a little on the formalised voting, as that proved a little too slow to keep the momentum up.

But still, the entire project has been done with the consideration of ideas from everyone, and every step has been put up for approval by the group before continuing. So I think we struck a good balance, and made a project we can all be proud of :-)

Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of producing the record?

A: Definitely keeping everything coordinated between so many people across time zones, with different levels of availability. Most of us (if not all?) have full time jobs, so it's no wonder it might take a few days to get something done sometimes.

And a close second, if I may, has probably been just sifting through all the myriad options for getting a record pressed, as well as those steps in the process (and laws!) that you just can't skip!

Q: Cool. So, switching gears a little, let's talk about your own music. How would you describe the music that you typically create?

A: Oh man, this is the hard one... As I said, I'm generally inspired by things from the 80's and back... - okay, and a little from the 90's as well ;-) So that's both music, movies and video games from back in those days.

Most times, I'm just playing around with different sounds until something inpires me. I might be in the mood for a particular sound or feeling, but I'm not great at creating something to a specific idea... yet.

So I'd say my music has a lot of that 80's and 90's movie and video game feel to it. More often than not, it's just that kind of thing that inspires me. I'm not afraid to go a little disco or even 'mock GTA theme' either though ;-)

One common thread that I think is important, is that I always create what I want to hear, and what feels true to me. I can never see myself making something for the purpose of being popular. And I've got the luxury of a great daytime job, so I do the music for it's own sake :-)

Q: What’s your song composition process?

A: As I said, it's often just playing around with some sounds in a blank project until something takes my fancy. What might be a little uncommon though, is that most of my current discography was created with Korg Gadget on Nintendo Switch.

My album 'Switch on the Gadget!' was started when I was on holiday in the family summer home and had nothing to do in the evenings. I had my Switch with me, found Gadget on the store and started playing around with it. By the end of that holiday I had 3 or 4 tracks mostly done.

It's a great little program that is simple to get started with, but also has quite a selection in terms of sounds. Only downside (ahem, a big one...) is that to be able to mix it, you have to record each instrument, in real time, from the headphone output...

And just to round this one off, as previously mentioned, I'm not really a player. So while I do own a couple of hardware synths (and way too many guitars), I mostly compose in midi. It can be tedious at times, but then again, it also allows you very precise control :-)

Q: Wow! So, besides the Korg app what else makes up your studio? What gear do you typically use?

A: I've got a Korg Minilogue analogue synth, which featured heavily on my latest single 'Latenite'. That's such a versatile synth, and you'll definitely hear more of that in the future ;-) I've also got a Roland D-50 recently, and I'm really looking forward to doing more with that!

Then I've got a selection of guitars, a Vox AC30 amp and various pedals... - mostly collecting dust, at the moment I'm afraid :-/ My main work tool besides Gadget is the Reaper DAW though, and various soft synths like Dexed, TAL U-NO-LX and many more.

Q: Who are your favorite artists, Synthwave or otherwise?

A: There are a few clear leaders, but the rest shifts with my mood. At the very top we find Genesis, Kashmir and Mitch Murder. I love a lot of prog and other kinds of rock, but have been focusing more on Synthwave as a listener as well these past years.

Q: Excellent. So, last question for you. What are your ambitions as an artist from here?

A: Well, I've never wanted music as a career. As mentioned, I really love my day job, and I'm too shy to be a rock star anyways :-P So for me, it's just about the art, about self-expression. I'd love for the whole world to hear my music, but I honestly don't want any real fame.

I just want to continue the journey I'm already on. Gradually getting better at both composition and production, enabling me to more accurately bring my ideas to life. I do have some things stuck in my head sometimes that I just don't have the skills to make yet.

Somewhere down the road I'd also like to get even more involved with the community. More collaborative projects like this record, and maybe also some production stuff. Who knows! Oh, and maaaybe to be involved in making music for a game ;-)


So, that wraps up our first artist spotlight! Zitilites, thanks for taking the time today. It was great to hear about how you make music.

More Synthwave artist interviews are coming. Stay tuned!

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