Ark Patrol is an artist many of you might already have come across in the quest to find more original and uplifting sounding electronic music. Riveting arpeggiators, ingenuous beatmaking and an intricate manipulation of vocal samples should tempt those who haven’t yet! The now LA-based producer talks to us candidly about his emotions, what he has achieved up until now, and his diverse influences. Tune in for his new LP release Geode, both an emotional statement and farewell, coming out this thursday!
Soundontime: How did you pick your artist name, “Ark Patrol”? Does it have anything to do with the theme of “expedition”?
ARK PATROL: The words “Ark Patrol” popped into my head the moment I sat down to decide what I should call my project. For years I didn’t know where I’d gotten it from or what I was referencing, until one day I sat down at my parent’s house with my old Yamaha keyboard. One of the song presets is called “Ark. Patrol” (Ark being an abbreviation for the state Arkansas). So I subconsciously took it from a Yamaha demo song.
You’re from Hawaii. You grew up there? How has that place influenced your sound?
Mostly I would say growing up in Hawaii stopped me from ever wanting to make Reggae or an acoustic guitar singer/songwriter project. I grew up in Hawaii until I was 18 when I moved to Los Angeles completely on my own. I never fit in with any of the native hawaiian kids in school, so instead of making party music I generally made more lonely space-sounding stuff.
Since how long have you been making music? How did you start out producing?
Well it depends how you decide what making music means but I’ve been hitting the piano keys since I was 2. Sunday service choir kid at 10 years old, high school jazz band at 15. Ark Patrol started in 2012 and I used to just use garageband on a MacBook I had.
I started by just making tracks and clips that I thought sounded “cool” which now that I think back on were all hugely cringeworthy ideas.
Did you take any music classes? Are you a classically trained musician?
Yeah I took piano classes for a few sparse years as a kid and attended Berklee in Boston for a bit. However I’m not classically trained by any means – I mostly pick up things by listening to them.
What is the first electronic music track you vividly remember listening to when you were young?
What’s the track/artist that made you get into electronic music?
When did you decide you wanted to pursue a career in music?
When I turned 18.
“I’ve had a really hard time allowing real emotion to get into the music. I still struggle with it – a lot of the sounds now are very very close to expressing what I feel but still maybe one degree removed from what I actually feel.”
You’re still very young, yet it seems like you’ve been around for a long time. How did you cope with getting more recognition from 2015 onwards?
I let it mess with my head trying to be overly humble and making the mistake of never being as confident in myself as I should have been. I think it kind of stunted any momentum I had, constantly changing my sound. I ended up being too hesitant on music.
How do you remember those earlier projects?
Those earlier songs were way more unprocessed than the audio I put out now. And I say unprocessed from a mental standpoint: nowadays I’ll go over tracks over and over so much more analytically whereas back then I think I just played a thing into the computer, smiled and called it a day.
Did you expect “Let Go” (feat. Veronika Redd) to be such a success?
Do you feel like your sound has evolved a lot since then?
Yeah, so much. But also the way I think about music has barely changed.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far in your music career? Why has this challenged you the most?
I’ve had a really hard time allowing real emotion to get into the music. I still struggle with it – a lot of the sounds now are very very close to expressing what I feel but still maybe one degree removed from what I actually feel. It’s because I have low self-esteem. It’s a challenge since tons of my influences displaying raw emotion is the entire reason I even got into music in the first place.
“Sorrow Doesn’t Resurrect” is a track I had on repeat for a long time. What’s the meaning behind the title?
I had just gone through a terrible break up with my girlfriend of almost 4 years since high school. When I was still going through it, I felt so alone and I was so fixated on my regrets that the words “sorrow doesn’t resurrect” captured my wishful thinking.
You sampled Melanie Martinez’s “Pity Party”, and created something completely new. How exactly did this particular track come about?
I think I had made the chorus first and tried to extend it out into a verse which was where the sample came in. I came back to it a little later after processing the breakup and decided to finish it with a big ol finale. San Holo was doing a lot of stuff at the time, which I think really influenced the ending of the song. But yeah it’s breakup music.
“I don’t see myself as true to my sound, I feel like I’m actually constantly leaving behind what I did last.”
If you need to present “Ark Patrol” to someone, how would you describe his sound?
Oh god I can never answer this question. I usually say a cross between electronica, hiphop, pop, trip hop and chillwave but with the new album I’m not even sure that’s appropriate anymore.
The Arp and chord progression on the “Betrayal of Lyla” reminded me a bit of Justice’s debut album Cross. Do you remember listening to that album?
I know I’ll get roasted for this but I’ve never listened to Justice. I even saw them live in Palm Springs and still haven’t checked out their music after. Please don’t shoot.
Arpeggiators are a recurring element in most of your tracks. Why do you love using them so much?
It’s easier than playing the same 8 notes for 32 measures in a row.
Your music sometimes reminds me of Chrome Sparks, Flume, but also of Slow Magic. Which artists do you think have influenced your sound the most up until now?
Flume, Gorillaz, Toro y Moi, Little Dragon, Radiohead, Weezer, Tommy Guerrero, Disclosure. Definitely Chrome Sparks and Slow Magic as well.
That being said, you have your very own signature sound. How do you manage to stay true to your sound, and what would your advice be for preserving originality?
I don’t see myself as true to my sound, I feel like I’m actually constantly leaving behind what I did last. I guess the “signature sound” you’re talking about are the sonic motifs I don’t really recognize that I do. Subconscious patterns I’d guess that someone else would have to point out to me.
How do you see the evolution of electronic music in the coming years?
I think everything coming up is looking and SOUNDING super exciting! The new Jamie XX, James Blake, Photay, Against All Logic, Jadu Heart all phenomenal. Electronic music definitely hit a wall and bounced in the last 3 years. It was all imitation “flumestep” and the same ‘bwah’ synth sound. Then we all got over it and started singing on our music. We’re in for a good few years of music I know for sure.
What I love the most about your music is probably the versatility, your exceptional composition, and your ability to merge organic and electronic musical elements. As listeners, we only get the end product, but we don’t really know what artists go through in the process. Can it be draining sometimes?
Yeah it’s pretty draining but I’ve learned recently it doesn’t have to be. The hard part is not seeing the value in a song anymore but trying to believe that it is worth something to someone else, and then putting in the work to finish things so you can share them.
Your self-titled (debut?) album Ark Patrol, released in 2019 is darker than your latest release Geode. Do you agree with that? And if so, why do you think it was the case?
Yeah it’s darker in my opinion. It’s a “give-up” album. Far fewer cymbals, crashes, hi-hats and more just simple basic synths and guitar. Less thought towards production and more thought towards wrapping it up already.
“Ganymede” is a track I recommend everyone to check out. How did you craft that pad instrument?
I think it’s just an altered bell pad with some reverb and panning. It’s a simple instrument so I use it often.
Do you have a particular way of doing things when writing a new track? What’s your workflow like usually?
Yeah. I’ll usually start with a chord progression, drum beat, or music sample. The vocal chops always come about midway through the track. After vocals come more percussion/cymbals/risers. Then I’ll take a step back and analyze the song structure of the track. Depending on what I feel like it needs, I’ll restart the whole process but just add it on to the end of the current track. At some point I give up and master/release it.
Your music is extremely melodic. It makes great use of motifs, and the chord progressions you come up with are enticing. Where do you get all this inspiration from?
Movies definitely. Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Harry Potter. I attended Berklee for film scoring, originally intending to do just that. I think I would have had I not gotten picked up by an indie label because of Ark Patrol.
What are the places you travelled to that inspired you the most?
Paris, the route to and from my ex-girlfriend’s house, hurricane hill at the olympic mountains. My car when I had to sleep in it the night of my first show in San Francisco because I’d driven down from Portland that day.
What’s the meaning behind the music video of “Orphan”? How long did it take for you to capture this moment?
I felt I was “diving” into a new sound and wanted to represent that in the music video. That was the first and only take of the video because I hate getting wet.
What’s your advice for people who experience writer’s block? How do you manage to develop your ideas into finished tracks on a regular basis?
I would say don’t think of it as writer’s block, call it something else. And then learn to expect it like a friend and use it as a signal to take a break. Don’t force ideas – it gets faker the more you do. And I don’t develop ideas into finished tracks on a regular basis, they’re all quite untimely. I finish work in batches and often with months in between each one. Usually I would feel guilty and work on some music but otherwise I just do it because I want to get something done.
And what would your advice be for upcoming music producers?
Get off of Soundcloud, don’t bother with promoting anything, focus solely on the music and compare your music to your influences A LOT. Also, make sure to release your stuff on all streaming platforms.
“I think i’m expressing confusion in a lot of my music.”
Can you talk us through your latest record Geode. Do you think it is your most accomplished work to date?
Sure. Geode is a love album which I made while infatuated last year with someone I had just met. Something in my life allowed me to accept a new direction sonically and so I spent a lot of time just finding a ton of interesting ambient sounds and samples and felt enough like a new person to try them all out as Ark Patrol.
Throughout the album is that person who you can hear sampled periodically. The idea being that they give me enough confidence to actually stand up and sing for the first time, as well as try new ideas.
You could call it accomplished but it seems very geared towards fun and less concerned with establishing it’s identity.
You have a very unique way of sampling vocals. How do you usually proceed, and have you already sampled your own voice?
I have sampled my own voice. Usually I’ll just spend a ton of time listening to vocal samples, picking out the tones I think are rare/special and cutting them to what I think are their core parts. Then it’s just a matter of placing it in the track, pitching it and making sure it’s not too annoying.
Are you the one singing on “Voodoo”?
Can you really “hear the future”?
Every couple of years for like a split second.
Do you ever think about the emotions and messages you are conveying through your music?
All the time, it gives me anxiety.
Do you have a particular intent in terms of what you’re saying or should the music do the talking?
I think I’m expressing confusion in a lot of my music.
“Asphalt Love” is my favorite track on your new record “Geode”. The melody is moving, and the different musical elements succeed themselves in a coherent way. Do you think it was the most rewarding track on this record?
What is the track on this record you ended up being the most attached to, and why?
Can You Hear The Future, mostly because it draws from Coldplay in it’s last half and Radiohead in its first. The lyrics also explain the parallels I saw in that person and the future I envisioned we had together.
What does your current studio set up look like?
2x JBL studio monitors, yamaha keyboard, bass, guitar, vocal mic, MacBook. It hasn’t ever changed much honestly.
Which hardware/software equipment do you heavily rely on?
Sylenth1 for synths, Ableton for everything, Kontakt 5 for live instruments and Splice for samples. Honorable mention goes to Trash 2, my distortion plugin, and SynPlant.
How did the coronavirus affect you? Were you planning on touring this year, did it allow you to focus on writing new music?
I was definitely planning on being more active this year, but coronavirus gave me the opportunity to just focus on my own feelings for the first time in years. So I’m sure it’ll affect whatever’s next for me, music or not.