This week I posed a few questions over to instrumentalist music producer and head of Toronto-Psychadelic Rock outfit Halo Vair whose upcoming home-recorded EP “Definition” is due out on December 12th 2021. We get into Victor Zohni’s recording rig, the frustrations with home-recording an independent artist like himself encounters, influential artists and some words of advice for those embarking on their own self-produced releases.
Listen to the debut single “Fly (Slow Jam)” on Spotify or your preferred streaming service here!
I really dig the bass groove in “Fly” – who would you say your bass style is influenced most by?
I’m heavily influenced by the bass legend James Jamerson, who played on tons of Motown records. Every time I hear him play, I’m blown away by how he’s able to jump all around the bass, yet maintain the groove and pocket of the song. A huge influence on the instrument in general. Also shoutout to Andy Rourke from The Smiths, and Geezer Butler from Black Sabbath.
This is a home-recording you produced, and by the sounds of things it’s not your first go at it! How long have you been recording and producing your own music?
I roughly started producing and recording music around 2016, so 5 years ago. Geez time flies eh… I had no formal experience in making music. I started searching online how to produce & record, then bugged every single musician I knew for help. Thankfully there are a ton of resources online to get started for free. My game plan was to create a song of every genre to learn different production styles and intricacies. I managed to accomplish a large chunk of that. You can hear my early recordings on https://soundcloud.com/jinzoxmusic
What’s one thing or message you hope listeners take away from “Definition” after they listen through?
I’m not sure there even really is a message here. I wanted to write great rock songs, and rock out with my band. Hopefully people enjoy the tunes and rock out with me
You’re inspired by 60’s psych-rock and it shines through in “Definition” for sure. What’s one band you’d travel back in time to catch in their prime?
A cliché answer, but The Beatles. They changed music forever in so many ways. It would be especially amazing to be a fly on the wall during their psychedelic era. Revolver, Sgt Peppers & Magical Mystery Tour fascinate me.
I love the way “For The Sake Of Brevity” comes in at your strong with the vocal only before it dips into a cool, upbeat groove. Can you tell us a bit more about what inspired this track?
That song is a fun culmination of multiple influences. There is a lesser known 70s power pop band called The Nerves, who have a track called “Hanging On The Telephone” that comes in with vocals only. I definitely lifted that idea from them. The chord progression came from the “Bowser’s Road” music from Super Mario 64 (Koji Kondo). I loved how it climbed up with those minor chords. The groove then came from that 60s R&B/Mod beat that I love so much. Sometimes referred to as a “lazy beat” or “Ringo swing”. Throw in some 90s grungy-ness in there and that’s the song.
What are some things you’d tell new-home-recording engineers to watch out for, or a piece of advice you’d give them as they’re getting started?
Try not to be so hard on yourself. I’ve struggled with self doubt and constant self scrutiny which can simply stop oneself from making music or enjoying the process. At the end of the day, this should be fun! What got me through it was having a rock-solid group of trusted musicians that can give you honest advice to keep yourself on the right path. I’m very thankful for my band members Vasili and Vas.
Can you tell us a bit about your recording set-up? What are the main pieces of gear you need on hand to bring a new song to life?
The majority of the album was recorded with relatively simple gear:
- Focusrite 18i8 interface
- Shure SM58 Microphone
- Epiphone SG guitar
- Squire Classic Vibe Bass
- Rock Band Keyboard
- Sennheiser HD600 headphones
- Ableton Live 11 with various plugins.
Now during this process, I was renovating my basement with my father, so after that was finally done, I built a full-on music studio with upgraded gear, and ended up re-recording some parts & mixing the album in that room.
I want to stress to everyone out there that you don’t need expensive gear to make music. The most important aspect is great songwriting combined with perseverance.
When you set out to start a new production from scratch, is there an instrument you tend to always gravitate towards first?
Most of the time it’s guitar, because that’s the main instrument I’ve been playing for over 13 years. Piano has been a huge help when it comes to fleshing out the song, since you have a hand free to focus on melody and harmony.
Who are your favourite music producers? Do you find you gravitate more towards multi-instrumentalists like yourself?
Around the late 2000s, there was a slew of incredibly talented artists who do “bedroom recordings”. The biggest influence was Kevin Parker aka Tame Impala since he was making great rock music, in contrast to hip hop or EDM coming from single producers. Then I heard Toro Y Moi, Tycho, The Drums, Beach Fossils, etc, and they all convinced me that you can make great music on your own.
I wouldn’t say I “gravitate” towards multi-instrumentalists. I gravitate towards great music that fits my tastes. There are multiple ways to achieve the end result but in my situation, I found the “bedroom” style of recording to be the most effective way to materialize my songs
What’s one thing you dislike about the home recording process that you find can become a little frustrating? What do you do when things just aren’t gelling the way you’d like them to?
The process can be incredibly time consuming. Combine that with a full-time job and other obligations and it’s very easy to feel burnt out. There is also a certain magic that exists when playing music with multiple people that isn’t present with home recording on your own.
There is also a “loop trap” you can fall into, where you keep looping the same piece of music over and over and don’t know where to go next. It’s also difficult when to figure out when a track is ‘finished”, as I always want to keep tinkering with it.
If I’m having an issue with music production. I typically reach out to friends, or search online for a solution. If it’s a really big problem, I take a step back in the process, such as changing the arrangement or chords being used. As I mentioned before, getting feedback from my trusted network of friends is a life saver!
What song on the record took the longest to develop and what was it about it that you felt needed a bit more time?
Tabula Rasa took me about one year to write. It was my attempt at writing an epic long, almost progressive psychedelic song. Kinda like Pink Floyd or King Crimson. I created so many darn chord progressions and sections for that song, that I got lost for so long. Imagine ten doors to walk through and each door had ten different doors inside it. I really pushed myself to get outside of my comfort zone, as I never wrote a song so long and complex. Yet I wanted to maintain the listeners attention the whole way through. In the end, I think it’s a solid closer to the album.
What was your first instrument and when did you get started with it?
My first instrument is the trusty ol guitar. I got started on it roughly 13 years ago after beating Guitar Hero 1 on PS2. Fun fact: in the credits of the very first guitar hero, the game tells you to go get a real guitar.
Is it still your preferred instrument or did that change somewhere along the way?
Guitar is still my preferred instrument. I love how versatile and expressive it is. There are always people coming out with new ideas and techniques to keep it fresh. I love to play piano to switch it up, but I’m not that great at it. With guitar, I can think less and play more since I’ve been at it for a while.
Are you a hyper-editing perfectionist when it comes to your productions or do you let some mishaps slide here and there?
I want to hit that sweet spot of coming off natural yet polished. Humans love and celebrate mistakes. Amp distortion, VHS desaturation, Tape saturation, amp feedback. These are all things that weren’t the original intention of the technology, but ended up sounding fantastic. I think we enjoy that because humans are not perfect, music should not be perfect. That being said, I do enjoy a polished production. Almost every audio nut likes to sit back and put on Steely Dan’s Aja every once in a while and bask in its glory.
It’s the release show for “Definition” and you’re halfway through the set when you notice someone in the crowd you weren’t expecting and they’re watching intently and really into the show. It stops you in your tracks because you can’t believe they’re there. Who is it? Why would this be such an exciting moment for you?
Probably my dad. Normally he asks me why I’m not playing The Eagles or Supertramp :p
Keep up with Halo Vair by visiting their website here and following them on Instagram & Facebook.
Listen on YouTube & Spotify.
Need some more ear-candy? Here’s some other music mentioned in the interview!
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