Got a chance to ask producer and record label owner (Dirtybird Records) - Barclay Macbride Crenshaw - better known as Claude VonStroke, a few questions! This one is pretty special because it's the first in-person interview I've done. It was neat to see where the magic happens and talk to someone in person. Without further ado...
Synth History: Do you remember your first synthesizer?
CVS: Yeah, it wasn't a synthesizer. I bought an E-mu Emax - okay, sampler - and I had a Roland MIDI controller. I basically made everything on that for like, four years. And I had some drum machines, but my first synthesizer is a Moog Voyager. And it actually still sounds f-cking great. Even when I go to Green Velvet’s house, he has one, and we always end up using that at his house too. It’s just got a great sound.
Synth History: Do you have a lot of go-to sounds?
CVS: No. I'm not a mega tweaker though. I'm not gonna go in and be like, the third envelope into the whatever. That's not me. I just go look for stuff and tweak it out. That’s what I use the most (points to Prophet 6). That just ends up on more stuff than anything else, it just has a weird creepy vibe that I like that sounds really nice.
Synth History: What records were you listening to growing up?
CVS: So I grew up playing the cello. My parents only listened to classical music. I played the cello and piano, but I as soon as rap music came out, I was like obsessed with it. So my first vinyl was Run DMC.
Synth History: Did that inspire the E-mu?
CVS: Yeah, everything. I was trying to be a rapper in the beginning. I had a four track recorder. Even before that, I would set up two jam boxes and beat box into one, record it, and then play it back and rap in my bathtub back onto the other one. And then tape splice and stuff.
Synth History: Whoah - tape splicing!?
CVS: Yeah, cassettes.
Synth History: Would you ever go back to that?
CVS: I'm not a person that goes back to ancient stuff. Because I'm like, no, I’d rather be able to save my patch.
Synth History: What is currently, at this very moment, inspiring you the most - whether it's a film that you just watched or location that you've just been to?
CVS: We recently went to Iceland and it was totally amazing. But the thing that is kind of nuts, that’s inspiring me is... I wasn't strict about making my kids do stuff, but they both can sing and song write. Now, I've started being mean to them about it, I mean, I make them come in here at night. I'll just do 20 minutes with them and then they go crazy. They'll stay here for two hours. That's why we got this (points to MIDI piano). I don't care about piano, but they play piano. So I had to get something where they could input all their songs. This is kind of new. One is 14, one is 15. So they're both now writing songs with me, and that's becoming actually fun.
Synth History: When you were growing up, did you have anybody in your life pushing you into the direction music?
CVS: My parents really wanted me to play classical music. They weren't like “you have to do this instrument”. They actually were amazing. They took me to the music shop and they let me pick my favorite instrument and I picked the cello for some reason. I don't know why.
Synth History: Do you ever put the cello on songs now?
CVS: I did one a while ago, but not really, I’m not even good anymore. I was good for a minute when I was 13.
Synth History: What are you working on now that you're excited about?
CVS: So I kind of shifted our record label this year to be less commercial and more adventurous. All the stuff that I'm working on is more like that and that could be why I haven't really seen anything this year, just because I'm not 100% happy with it yet. But I feel like I'm gonna get there and it's just gonna all start racing out. I'm just not at that place yet, where I have figured it out. It's like a little bit of a reset.
Synth History: How were you able to handle the pandemic? Were you writing a lot?
CVS: Yeah, I actually released a ton of music. Somehow it got to this point where now I haven't really said anything in like four months. During the pandemic, we also did tons of streaming, which we never did before. Had like 18 hours a week on our channel on Twitch of all different people. And we had two or three shows every single night, running a TV station. I had to learn OBS backwards and forwards. We did it in here. Upstairs. We had this whole room painted green. All these little stations, we did a whole festival online.
Synth History: Are you still active on it now that the pandemic has settled down a bit?
CVS: Our Twitch channel is still active but we are down to like nothing. Okay, well, it's not nothing - because when our tickets go on sale for Camp Out I'm doing an eight hour set, where we give away a prize with a Pat Sajak Wheel of Fortune every 10 minutes. The prizes are hilarious. It ranges from a stupid Halloween mask to an ARP Odyssey.
Synth History: What are three synths that you couldn't live without - desert island with a full recording studio - you would bring these?
CVS: I would bring that Prophet 6. There's a plug-in that I always use, the SEM. For some reason, I love that sound. I've used that on so many things and people cannot tell, I’ll dirty it up and do whatever. And then I like the Arp 2600. So yeah, definitely like super tweaky weird stuff. It's cool. Bleep-y.
Synth History: Do you have any tips for people to get over writer's block?
CVS: Yeah. I should be using them. So the way to do it, I've gone through this a million times, the way to do it is… you have to force yourself to, and give yourself permission to be terrible. And just be like, I'm making these five beats today. Whether I want to or not, whether I like them or not, and they are all garbage, it doesn’t matter. Eventually, what happens is the sixth beat or the ninth beat or the eighth or your eightieth is like your biggest hit ever. You just have to keep doing it. I definitely need to listen to that because I've been in a little bit of a rut these last few weeks. It’s crazy when you already know what to do and you still don't do it. That's like double writer's block.
Claude VonStroke is currently on tour.
References: Synth History Exclusive.