American Fork’s Mkaio — born as Matthew Kammerer — grew up in Hawaii.
After learning how to make music from his parents, he would DJ dances in high school and in college at BYU-Hawaii.
He soon realized that as an independent artist, if he wanted to make a record, he was going to have to do it all himself. That aesthetic led to his record “A Far Off Horizon,” created entirely in his bedroom on some of the most inexpensive music software available.
Mkaio answered several email questions about having control in the music business and the album’s dedication.
Why did you choose the stage name Mkaio?
I chose a stage name since other artists with my same name, as uncommon a name as it may seem, had already registered domain names and were using my same name for their projects. I am from Hawaii, and Matthew in Hawaiian is Makaio, but I then discovered other artists had also used that name and had online domains fighting for that name. I decided to just drop one letter and register my stage name as Mkaio, being unique, unused and unfamiliar.
Where did you get started in music?
I started in music at a very young age. Both of my parents are musicians and teachers, and my father is also a composer. I remember being a young boy and sneaking into his recording studio in the spare bedroom of our apartment. He would be working on a song on his synthesizer or recording on his reel-to-reel recorder, and I was fascinated by his projects. I would sneak in and start working on my own projects when I was about 10 years old. My dad then decided he would show me how to write and record electronic music, and I have been writing ever since. My mother is a choir and piano teacher. She gave me home lessons on the piano all growing up, and I was in her choirs in high school. Both parents instilled in me a passion for music and art.
Why do you insist on doing everything?
I had produced some music for some friends. I work occasionally on mash-ups and remixes and have had some success and recognition with those, but I was having a hard time making the kind of music I wanted to make. I have found that commercial music is so calculated and the market oversaturated, I realized that if I wanted to make a record I was going to have to do it all myself. I was a poor student fresh out of college and bought a used computer and the cheapest music software I could find, which was Sony Acid 7. I bought the cheapest USB microphone I could find and began working on the record. Since I was writing, producing, arranging, recording, engineering and mastering the entire record myself, I felt like I had complete control. I could write about anything I wanted, take as much time or as many risks as I wanted and the record became something wholly different than how it started. It started out as a very shiny, dance-oriented album and became something much more saturated and sentimental. I lost my best friend to neuroendocrine cancer in 2010, and the songs I wrote for her became the heart and soul of the record. She was my biggest supporter and would sing along to whatever song I was working on at the time. I realized that I wanted to make a record that I knew she would have loved, with songs specifically for her and for my memories of her. I decided to dedicate this record to her and knew that if I did everything independently, I could create the exact work exactly how I wanted it to sound.
What do the words “independence” and “integrity” mean in the music business?
In my opinion, the music business is commonly contrary to independence and integrity. There are labels, businesses, distributors, artists and individuals in the business who are completely dedicated to trying to make real art and are not in it just for the money or the fame. But pop music, by its definition, is popular. And to become popular in music, usually an artist needs a large platform with a lot of money for advertising, as well as promotion from radio and press. It is very hard for an independent artist to get that kind of notice, so usually the most independent artists, the truest to their integrity, do not get heard. Their music is too foreign or unpolished for audiences who hear the same things over and over and over. To me, music should be a derivation, not a duplication. Artists should not be trying to copy and cash in on whatever is popular at the time. We should build on musical archetypes and try and discover something new in music. Some new sound, some unfamiliar sonic, some unused rhythms — there are infinite possibilities when it comes to the musical experience. To me, musical integrity is the commitment to delivering exactly what your soul composes, the success measured in personal tonal truth, whatever that might be, rather than popularity or sales.
How did you make your album using Sony Acid?
Sony Acid is a program which uses loops (sounds which can be repeated in a composition), samples (individual notes, tones or sounds), keyboard programming and audio recording to create original compositions. It is the precursor to popular software like Fruity Loops or Apple’s GarageBand. Electronic music is a huge genre, with so many subgenres, so it can be hard to classify sometimes. And chillwave is one of those subgenres, one that uses elements from 1980s New Wave music and chill-out music from the 2000s. It has a sound aesthetic of old synthesizers, drum machines and heavy reverb and a supersaturated sound, like those old cassette tapes we used to wear out in our parents’ tape decks. My vision on this record was to create an album that sounded like a cracked and worn cassette tape, handmade, faded and aged, incorporating elements of pop, electronic, shoegaze, chillwave, drone, ambient and minimalist music as well as field recordings and experimental sounds. I made the entire record in my spare bedroom, writing, recording and mixing everything on my desktop computer. This is a project that anyone can do — anyone who has the goal of putting out their own record exactly how they want to can do it.
Do Chinese get English sayings tattooed on their bodies?
Chinese people can get English words on their bodies, but they are usually wrong.
Did Noah have woodpeckers on the ark? If he did, where did he keep them?
Noah didn’t have an ark, just a good publicist.
To hear Mkaio’s music, go to mkaio.com or iTunes at http://itun.es/i6DD3RK