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I had the pleasure of meeting Nick back in 2015 and a few months later, we were on tour together. Nick Stein tours with the band Finish Ticket and he is one of the most talented keyboardists that I’ve had the pleasure of touring with.
I wanted to do this interview with Nick as he is not only a good friend but also a phenomenal musician who has a lot of experience touring and playing in bands.
Nick formed an Indie-electronica project called “Holophone” and released an EP entitled, “Humanimal” in 2018. The synthesizer work on this album is incredible and it really shows off Nick’s technical skills with producing and writing music.
You can view Holophones Bandcamp and check some of the songs out here.
You will find out in this interview that one of Nick’s favorite synthesizers is the Dave Smith Prophet 12. I happen to actually own this synth as well and I believe that this is one of the best synths for performing live.
Nick Stein Interview
(The following questions are being answered from Nick Stein)
What’s your background? How long have you been playing, jazz, classical, types of lessons?
I first started playing piano at the age of six. Like many things at that age, I started because my brother was doing it, and never looked back.
I studied classical piano for the first ten years, before shifting my studies to jazz piano for the next six.
While I enjoyed playing classical music, I realized that all of the music I was actually listening to was deeply rooted in jazz. Jazz was also significantly harder, and I figured if I could play jazz I could play anything, which turned out to be true.
After college, I moved back to the Bay Area and promptly started playing indie rock and electronic music which really rounded out my knowledge of the many ways keyboards are implemented across genres.
List your gear and which piece of gear you find to be the most essential for writing music & also for gigging?
My current rig consists of:
- Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 12
- Korg Minilogue XD Module
- Keyboard Korg SV-1
- Elektron Analog Rytm Mk2
- Roland SE-02 (with ext box)
- Korg Volca Beats, Keys, and Bass, all controlled by my Arturia Beatstep Pro Strymon Big Sky Boss RE-20
My flagship instrument is definitely my Prophet 12. Not only is it an absolute beast sonically, but it also has all of the knobs, sliders, and wheels you need for complete control in both the studio and on the road.
Pairing it with my Strymon Big Sky reverb pedal takes it to another level as well.
What Is Your Dream keyboard setup? Including keyboards that you would add to your arsenal?
My dream keyboard setup is actually not that different from my current rig. I think I would replace my Korg SV-1 with a Nord Stage. I love those things, so powerful.
Then I would add a pair of MIDI keyboards and build a rack with a Prophet (or 3), a Moog Voyager RME, and a suite of software for all things digital.
I’ve had my eye on the Moog Subsequent 37 for a while now to, it’s packed with features and sounds amazing.
Advice to musicians and aspiring producers wanting to pursue music professionally?
Just keep creating for the sake of making good art. Don’t try to write a hit or cater to your perceptions of others’ tastes, just make tracks that you think are dope, and everything else will follow.
Once music became a career for me I realized how many pressures can be applied to the creative process, both internally and externally. And that pressure is x1,000 if you’re signed to a major label as we both know.
Also, just be nice. You never know who you’re going to meet again, and 99% of the top tier acts I’ve met have been very kind and friendly and I think there’s something to that.
We’re in a transitional period for music it seems. Hip hop and electronic music have a HEAVY influence on the current alternative scene. Any guesses as to what breaks through next? For example, Rebirth of punk, grunge, metal, folk?
I think we’re already starting to see it, but genres are going to have less and less meaning. The way the old music industry was structured, every artist had to be put into a box so the labels could market them through a predetermined pathway.
As the power of distribution become decentralized in the music industry, artists can make genre-defying music and still reach listeners without the old guard of gatekeepers demanding genre-specific songs that are four minutes or less.
Also, electronic music and hip are just now coming of age as elements of mainstream music, so the artists making alternative music these days most likely grew up listening to hip hop and electronic music as part of the contemporary music zeitgeist.
Name 3 bands, artists or producers that inspire you as a producer or performer
Foals, Moderat, and Radiohead. I’ve come to realize that a lot of my favorite artists are rock bands that strongly invoke electronic music, or electronic acts that strongly invoke rock music.
What do you believe is the biggest tool aspiring keyboardists can sharpen?
Play with others and hone your ear. One of the great blessings of having piano as my chosen instrument is that I can play an entire song with my two hands that will cover the complete frequency range of human hearing (more or less).
Because of that, I’ve found myself increasingly playing alone, though I still find playing music with others to be more rewarding.
Favorite chord progression that you find yourself going to often?
Anything that uses chord tones that are out of the key I’m playing in.
For example, there’s a classic chord progression in gospel music that I often find myself returning to: I – III7 – vi – iv. So, in the key of C that’d be C – E7 – Am – Fm.
Only two of those chords actually fit into the base key we’re in: C. The E7 is the 5 chord in Am, so it creates a resolving feeling in the midst of the progression.
The ear expects a major F chord, but when you drop that minor F chord it’s one of the sweetest surprises.
That’s a Paul McCartney classic right there. Plus, the major third of the E7 and the minor third of the Fm are the same note, which isn’t in the key of C. Fun!
Do you feel that keyboardists have an advantage over other instruments when it comes to transitioning to producing? For example, does a keyboardist have an advantage over a guitarist or a drummer?
I wouldn’t say we have an advantage, but your instrument of choice definitely affects the way you process music.
For example, when I think about harmony and melody, I’m picturing a keyboard which is a single, symmetric run of intervals.
Whereas that pesky B string on a guitar removes symmetry from the equation, which must effect the way guitarists process the relationships of everything.
I often find that music directors and arrangers are keyboard players, and I think part of that is due to my earlier point about the piano being the only instrument that can cover the complete frequency range.
What do you view as the most under-rated synth?
People discount the Korg Volca series because those little boxes are pretty inexpensive, but every one I’ve ever used sounds amazing!
I don’t think it’s underrated, but I tell everyone who asks me what synth to buy to buy the Korg Minilogue (assuming they don’t have the budget for a Schmidt).
Creativity VS Technical Ability – Do you value one over the other?
When I was younger I played in a number of jam bands that featured many extended, meandering solos of undeniable technicality.
As fun as it was to play those solos, from the audience they always came across as quite masturbatory.
I have no regrets about the hours I spent mastering my technical ability, but once that skill is attained, deploying those skills tastefully is of the utmost importance.
Tell us about Holophone and what it means to you?
Holophone is a word I created to describe the way my brain processes music. It’s a combination of the prefix holo, as in a hologram, or a complete picture, and the suffix phone, for sound.
I create music very viscerally and when I’m really in the zone I’m pretty much in a trance.
My vision backs up to be a secondary sense and I’m wholly focused on a three-dimensional structure of rhythm, harmony, and melody that is being built in my head, but also reflected as sound in the room.
The world is chaotic and unpredictable, so I try to build little nuggets of beauty to escape to for a while.
Do you have a favorite keyboardist to watch perform?
I’d probably have to go with Herbie Hancock as he was my first keyboard idol.
The man can create entire worlds with his two hands and a piano, but then also step behind a wall of synthesizers and drop that red hot fusion of jazz, funk, and rock.
I hope that you find this read as interesting as I do. I really wanted to ask questions that I feel would benefit aspiring keyboardists and musicians in general, as well as gear heads.
One more thing that I would suggest you to do is to push yourself when it comes to different time signatures. Try and learn songs in 7/4 or songs in 5 and 6/8.
The harder you try and develop your skills when it comes to time signatures, the more versatile you will be.
Leave a comment below if you have any questions!