Thermal's arrival on the scene here has brought a wave of uplifting liquid vibes just as the start of summer is creeping in across the Northern hemisphere. Last month he dominated the charts, scoring a number 1 with the highest-rated track on dnbscene so far, and showed the early fruits of a highly promising partnership with his female vocalist and devoted wife, MiMiracle. Currently the most consistently highly-rated artist on the site, Thermal is firmly on track for big things in the future.
Please introduce yourself to us. Personal life, eating habits, that kind of thing.
My name is Åsmund Mæland, or Ozzy for short. I'm 29 and live with my wife and four children plus my five month old granddaughter and ten cats on Askøy, an island just outside of Bergen, Norway. I work as a project buyer in the oil & gas industry. I am also a muscle therapist. Kind of a mixed bag, hehe.
Eating habits? I am into powerlifting and eat stuff with lots of calories. I've never had faster progression than when I used to drink a gallon of whole milk a day. That's not very healthy, though, so I am trying to be more moderate these days.
When did you start making music and why?
I had been playing classical piano since I was 10 and had a "band" with my cousin, who played guitar. In 1996, when I was 14, one of my classmates was collecting and producing tracker music. At the time I was only really listening to rock and Michael Jackson, but the stuff being produced by the top guys from the tracker/demoscene felt really fresh and exciting to me. It got me into Player Pro, a slightly dodgy sequencer for Mac (I have always been a Mac user), but which could export to FastTracker 2 format (.xm).
It probably took two years before it was possible for others to remotely enjoy my stuff. The first tracks were terrible on every level. I couldn't make a decent melody and I didn't have a clue as to how a decent beat should be programmed. The great thing about tracker music, though, is that you can just load someone else's tune and analyse what they've done. That and tons of experimentation taught me a lot. I remember the day I discovered the 2-step beat... I had a straight disco type beat and moved the second kick to the offbeat before the second snare, and - !!! - my life changed forever :smile:
After a while I acquired a Technics keyboard and went from PlayerPro to MotU VisionDSP to control the thing via MIDI. I quickly found that I was unable to make the cool synth sounds I wanted, so I sold it and got a Roland Alpha Juno-1, a Behringer mixer and a Zoom multi-fx unit. Now things were starting to pick up. After a while I had loads of hardware (always scouring the 2nd hand market for good deals) - at one point I had an Akai S1000, Yamaha A3000 and EMU e6400 Ultra samplers in addition to many synths and FX boxes. All my savings went on music gear. My cousin, who went on to run a studio and play in a great electronic rock band called Vaiping, taught me how to use Logic. A real boon to me, because I didn't find it logical at all at first! It was version 4.5 back then.
Then, around 2005 I think, I sold basically all my hardware to get a hefty Mac G5 with the superb UAD-1 card and Logic 7. But I was really disappointed with the EXS sampler in Logic. The filters were boring, pitching samples didn't sound as good as hardware, nor did layering sounds. And even though the ES2 synth is very flexible, it didn't fire me up like the JD-990 or Bass Station run through some cheap and noisy multi-FX. Going 100% software felt clinical, lifeless and uninspiring. So I started getting some hardware again, and this time I wanted quality over quantity. I bought a Nord Modular G1 for £310 on eBay - my best gear purchase ever. I've got 3 UAD cards now, still using a G5. My other main kit is a Mackie 1202 mixer, an Ensoniq DP/4 multi-FX unit, an EMU e5000, a Roland Space Echo pedal, an Akai XR-20, a Røde microphone and a couple of Technics decks. There is something about hardware that I find gives more of a "3D" sound. Where the ES2 felt two-dimensional, the Nord has so much more depth. I've heard amazing things done with ES2, by the way, but personally I've found it fiddly to get a good synth sound out of software. That's changing, though - I bought Alchemy a while back, a beautiful sounding synth. I've also got the Fabfilter Twin, which isn't too shabby.
Musical influences: Almost anything, but besides jungle and dnb from the mid/late 90's, The Prodigy and late 90's trance have a special place in my heart.
I make music 50% for my own therapy and 50% with the intention to rock clubs. With the help of dnbscene.com, maybe I am getting closer to making the latter possible?
Tell us about your song-making process.
I'm on Logic 8 now and will often start with making a beat using 8 or so instances of EXS (pretty much the only thing I use EXS for). A couple of breaks, a couple of kicks, a couple of snares, some hats and cymbals. Most of that will typically run into a drum buss with CamelPhat for a bit of parallel compression/saturation. I love the classic breaks like the Amen and Hotpants, never really get sick of them. I'll flick through some synth sounds or samples and improvise on the keyboard until I find something that works with the beat. I've sampled loads of stuff into my EMU and I sift through that, I rarely browse samples on my computer. The bass usually comes from the Nord or ES1. The Nord is amazing and I love how I can add an extra filter here, a waveshaper there, some FM or whatever when I want to. I mix as I go. I like splitting my bass into two bands, distorting and widening the mid/high band. Layering the Nord and Alchemy together makes for some nice pads. I make all my own patches on the Nord, but I will often use presets in softsynths, perhaps just tweaking them a little bit to nudge them closer to what I want. The EMU is great for beefing up breaks and bass by recording hot into the analogue inputs and maybe adding even more gain before recording back into Logic. Sometimes I'll make a nasty bass or lead with it, but currently I use it most for sampling vinyls and CDs. As you probably have noticed, I am a sucker for vocals. I think that any tune sounds better with some acoustic sounds mixed in; it adds so much depth.
I make a 16-bar loop and try to arrange it out to half a track or a full track quickly. It's a good idea to turn off loop mode, so that you are forced to change the actual arrangement instead of just sitting there loopmonged, muting and unmuting channels. That is how I managed to complete Chagrined in three days. Usually I spend a lot more time than that, sometimes months. Now I think that if you don't have 80% of a tune within 2-3 days, it probably isn't worth it. I always try to make a sort of chorus, a verse or two, a bridge plus the ubiquitous breakdown and intro/outro. Most tracks will have two different basslines and/or chord progressions as I get bored if it's just the same thing over and over.
I use a lot of the stock Logic plugins like the Channel EQ, Space Designer, Autofilter, Tremolo and Microphaser for processing, and tend to reach for UAD plugins when I want to treat my audio with an extra tasty EQ, compressor or chorus. Neve 1073, LA-2A, 88RS, Roland CE-1 are all very nice. The basic UAD delay is cool too. Other 3rd party plugs that get a lot of use are CamelPhat, AudioDamage Fuzz+, Amplitube Live, Crysonic SpectraPhy and Nxtasy (a little extra 1st and 3rd harmonic does magic to bass).
I've got ADAM monitors and sub, but 98% of the time I'm using a pair of hifi speakers my cousin built and a cheap Marantz amp. The ADAMs are so unforgiving they make the music making less fun. I pretty much only turn them on for final adjustments. Mixing is hard for me as I have hyperacousis (oversensitivity to sound) - the levels must either be very low to avoid fatigue/headache, or I have to use earplugs and turn the music up. Because of this I rarely listen to music except when I am producing my own stuff, which is far from ideal. The reviews part of dnbscene.com have helped me in this regard as I like reviewing, which of course necessitates listening :)
What is your proudest musical achievement to date?
That was probably in 2007 when a Danish label called Pilot Music were having a release party for my album "Lightspeed Soul" at Culture Box in Copenhagen and I was headlining together with Utah Jazz. Opening my set with my own tunes for a packed room and seeing people enjoy them was wicked. Unfortunately I lost all my momentum shortly afterwards when it turned out that the label hadn't sorted out the distribution and that my 1000 CD albums wouldn't be released, nor would my 1000 vinyl singles. I received five of the vinyls myself, the remaining 995 are probably sitting in a basement in Copenhagen. The CD wasn't printed. It took a long time before I was inspired to make music again.
I am considering putting the unmastered album up on Soundcloud/Dnbscene; as the rights have been revoked to me, I might as well let somebody hear those songs? The tune I am most proud of, maybe the only of my tunes I can listen to without wanting to adjust something, is one of them...
In your opinion, what is the most difficult aspect of promoting yourself as an unsigned artist?
Personally it's being a family man. I don't have very much time for myself, and that time is mostly spent on training and producing. At 29 I feel I'm getting old , I can't keep up with all this Facebook and Twitter stuff. In general I guess it's that you need a really good grasp of the promotional tools available in order to get the necessary attention. There are a lot of people out there making great music.
What is your biggest dream in relation to your music?
Playing live with a fantastic band. Probably not going to happen, but bringing good vibes to DJ sets and homes isn't half bad either! Getting signed to a respectable label is of course also high on the list.
Listen to Thermal's highest rated track, Chagrined