Mellow Code is the solo project of the electronic artist based in Los Angeles Josh McVety. He unveils himself as a very prolific artist that finds a lot of inspiration for making music constantly. Recently he has been collaborating with other artists on each album including Jane Chain (Prudence, Milliken Chamber And Forever Grey). He developes many different styles, never writes de same album twice, and has a very large range of posibilities with his music. Mellow Code is techno, darkwave, synthpop, house, and italo disco and some other things. Here’s the full chat with a very unique personality as Josh McVety.
Default has a very peculiar background. How did you come with the idea of resetting your synths in order to produce, how did this affected your sound?
Mellow Code: I learned at some point that for me both in visual art and making music I can use limitation as a creative tool. I am a trained furniture maker and sculptor. Often when building furniture with hand tools its best to not think too far into the project. Keep it simple and take one step at a time. I approach music the same way. Forcing myself to use only pre-made sounds on my Korg volca Fm, Roland JX03, volca sample and Roland TR8, was a way to get myself excited about my synths again. Like they were brand new. Then I got to re-explore their sounds and at the same time write a bunch of parts to play around with in Ableton. I wrote 10 bass parts first on the Volca FM while on a trip in Las Vegas in a hotel room with my good friend Evan Schiemke (SKM_LKR) who I have collaborated with before on a project called Bass Witch we did back in Michigan with Kevin from Forever Grey, James Grey aka Nazz the Hit Maker and our synth friend Jarret Taylor. We made it an event to write a track together every week for the year leading up to me and Kevin moving to LA. I think using presets made me choose the most timeless sounds that stood out to me. Giving the album an older feel but with a minimal house structure.
We are now so familiar with overproduced tunes, but Mellow Code seems to make more with less, is not easy to make it simple, where does this come from?
Mellow Code: I was taught to see the world through the eyes of a designer/artist by my family and went to art school for furniture design. I think designers get taught how to simplify and edit down to necessary components. I think it is a habit of mine when I do creative things.
When I read Simons Reynolds Postpunk book, I discovered that the first generation of postpunk musicians wanted to transgress, experiment. Mellow Code has a similar vibe, like going in a different direction making altered synth music. What inspired you to make music on your own?
Mellow Code: In Michigan there really isn’t all that much to do. I started learning to play instruments early but I didn’t try to write anything electronic until I got into seeing underground house shows and warehouse parties with bands and Djs I had never heard of. My mind was opened and I decided it was time. I started a band with my friend Chris Eddie who had been in bands most of his life. We made a project called Exposure Therapy and started collecting synths and writing music together. We finished an album, played a bunch of shows and then I moved to LA. We still plan to do a second album after he moves to New Orleans. So I guess the answer is the cool people around me inspired me to finally pull the trigger and make my own music.
You have worked with Jane Chain in a very different album called Nostalgia, how was the process of creating with her and find a communion with your ideas? Who Suffered the most in the composition?
Mellow Code: I have known Anna (Jane Chain) since we lived in Michigan. Me and my wife Miranda actually talked Anna and Kevin (Milliken Chamber) into moving to LA when we did. So me and Anna’s collaboration was very natural. When I started Mellow Code I set out to make an album every two weeks and to do that without loosing my mind I set out to collaborate with my friends for some of the albums. I asked her to do an ambient album with me because I know its something she is passionate about and also really good at. I also knew from us jamming together in the past that our styles would match up well and make something neither of us would make on our own. I came up with the structure of the album. One 16 min title track and 8 other 2 min chapters that each had elements of the title track. So when I had her over to record we didn’t even really have to discuss anything. We just started playing and I recorded what I heard that made the right imagery in my mind and as Anna said that day, “felt like a rainy day in a far away village in Europe.” I edited that into the 16min track and was then able to make the Chapters. We then did more recordings on those tracks to round them out. She used her Vintage Casio keyboard for its haunting string sounds and her looper for vocalizations.
It’s getting harder to make ethereal music, because most of the listeners don’t want to be challenge with this type of music. What’s the biggest feeling of success when you make a record like Nostalgia?
Mellow Code: This was the first time for me making an ambient concept album. I have been to quite a few noise house shows and my favorites were ones where I felt like I was put into a meditative state. We set out to make something that takes you somewhere else, makes you forget yourself and that you are even listening to music. I drive Lyft in LA part time and I often test my music on my passengers. I knew we had truly accomplished what we meant to do when I played the entire album on a rainy day and my passenger said nothing the entire 30 min ride, fell asleep at one point, left without a word and tipped me. I think making ethereal or ambient music you have to intend to make music that is on the periphery of your senses.
Rock n’ roll is a living dead, do you think synths will face the same fate at any point?
Mellow Code: I feel like the whole rock n’ roll being “undead” has to do with the USA deliberately ignoring synths and worshiping Electric Guitar for far too long. It got too the point where Rock was so big that it no longer was special to make music in that style. The bands that influence me the most are the early electronic bands that were popular literally everywhere except the USA. There are exceptions of course like Devo, Chicago House and Detroit Techno, but even those bands did better in The UK, Germany and Mexico. I think people in the US now have been revisiting 80s synth sounds now because they are catching up on what they missed due to an over saturation of very guitar heavy bands being “the thing”. I have nothing against guitar, I use it in my live set and some of my tracks. Its just not the focus. My theory is that Synths won’t really have the same fate because I believe we have barely scratched the surface of genres and styles of electronic music. If anything I think very specific genres that get too big die weird half deaths but the instruments will always be there to be used in new exciting ways. A recent example would be Dub Step and its distinctive now stigmatized Wub Wub sound. This didn’t kill the synth that made that sound or even the patch necessarily, just the way it was played.