Review and Extensive Interview With Plike
By Randy Wayne Belt – July 13, 2015
In Plike’s newest sonic adventure, Empathetic Apathy, you have Alice in Wonderland teaming up with the Mad Hatter to give us a creation of sounds that explore unrestrained imagination. Set to be released on July 15th, 2015 it might not be what you would expect out of Austin, TX, but this music is a great fit for any number of gaming formats or movie soundstracks. And in fact, in the upcoming independent feature film, Windsor Drive, Plike has three tracks that will be featured in the movie!
In Lewis Caroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, you have a girl who goes down a rabbit hole to find herself shrinking or expanding depending on her circumstances. One can’t help but wonder if there isn’t an unintentional or subconsious reference to the very real but mysterious Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, in which people, usually children, suddenly see things change size.
Now, it’s probably not a well known fact that one of the alternate titles proposed for the famous Caroll story was Alice Among Goblins. That title didn’t quite work out for Caroll, but had it been the title, with a slightly different story and a bit spookier, and had that work been created today, recording artist Plike may well have been selected to create the soundtrack.
Plike’s sound is self-described as hauntingly beautiful and disturbingly dark, an eccentric layering of natural and organic sounds against heavy digital elements. I couldn’t find better words than that to describe the music.
From the opening track “Attachment Theory” to the ending “Lessons in Futility” there is a consistent pattern of haunting sounds that lend the music to a few popular formats. For instance, the song “The Clockwork Girl” perfectly captures the feeling you might have while listening to a series of clocks ticking, only musically, and you’re in a dark room waiting to get out.
It is perfect background music for a video game. For example, the music would fit well instrumentally with the Number One Best Horror Game of 2013, the indie horror game “Outlast”, and to a lesser degree, the sounds would also work with something along the lines of Skyrim or Fallout (both games made by the same creator).
- Mad Madam Em
I could also imagine some of the music working well with some of my own favorite Hidden Object games. Add the vocals, and you have entered a realm beyond that. The female vocal samples throughout brought me to think of perhaps Evanescence – only an Evanesceance who who may have been traumatized and was struggling with depression and has overcome it via music as therapy.
In a similar vein of thought, oddly, it has been my experience, that often a very sad sounding song can have the opposite effect of cheering one up. It’s funny how that works for some people. So naturally, the concept and inspiration from their last album, the EP 47th Helen was born from Plike founder Mad Madam Em’s own struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that affects 7.7 million adults in the United States.
I discovered Plike while listening to Em’s interview with Jacqueline Jax on A.V.A. Live Radio back in April of this year and was intrigued by Em’s statement “Depression and anxiety make people feel alienated. Sometimes just hearing a song you can relate to can give you the strength to pick yourself back up and keep going.” Such a true statement! And it was nice to hear someone willing to take on such a subject that tends to be overlooked and ignored and pushed under the rug.
You can listen to that interview and hear the track “Catherine” from Plike’s last EP here: http://avaliveradio.com/behind-the-music-em-of-plike-on-having-strength/
So to test out my Alice and Wonderland-like assumptions about this newest EP by Plike and see if I’m really on target here, I caught up with the group’s two compositionists, Em and Ash recently and got to hear the new EP before it is released and got to chat by phone about the music and throw out some of my own interview questions for them.
Randy: This is probably an unusual way for me to start out a recording artist interview, but considering how I’ve just described your music, it makes sense in the fantastical Alice in Wonderland method of interviewing. What are your top 5 or 10 favorite video games of all time?
Ash: Silent Hill 2, Skyrim, Bioshock, Final Fantasy VII, Journey
Em: Alice: Madness Returns, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, L.A. Noire, Katamari Damacy, Heavy Rain
Randy: I’m not surprised there. Your music is so fitting for some of those games! So, music… What made you want to create/do music? And is it the number one thing you want to do for a living?
Em: Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been drawn to creating art. For years and years I painted and sketched, and I wrote short stories and novellas and screenplays. As a kid I took piano lessons and then guitar lessons, but I didn’t appreciate those lessons until much later on when I started playing bass.
It was about that time that I realized how much I loved writing music. Painting and writing went on the backburner and music became my everything. I found I could express myself artistically through music in ways I never could through painting and writing. If I could choose any career in the world, I would love to score independent films and video games full time.
Ash: We both grew up in musical families, and later on in life it became an escape for both of us. It was like therapy – a way to cope. It’s absolutely the number 1 thing I want to do for a living, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Randy: Tell me about that. How were your families musical families?
Em: My grandma played fiddle and grandpa played the upright bass and the whole family would sing and have fun playing bluegrass type music. Ash’s grandparent’s were travelling musicians, I guess they were the blacksheep of the family travelling around playing music in an RV!
Randy: That’s wild! Musicians often get a bad rap just because we are different. And I’ve found that music often runs in the blood. So now that we are going back in time, what bands or recording artists were you exposed to growing up?
Em: Up until I was about 13, it was mainly a lot of great music from the 60’s – Simon & Garfunkel, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and especially the Beatles. My godmother was a Beatlemaniac when she was a teenager and gave me all of her old Beatles records. I must have played each of them 1000 times!
Ash: I have three older brothers, so I grew up on a pretty steady diet of metal music. Tons of Slayer, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, that kind of stuff. Then Nirvana came along and they were game changers. They pretty much blew my mind, because their sound was so new and different.
(After being sidetracked in a long discussion the Beatles, we continued…)
Randy: What kind of impact would you say that music has had on your music today?
Em: I didn’t realize until a few years ago what a huge impact the Beatles had on me as a musician. They were so innovative. I fell in love with vocal harmonies because of them. The grunge bands I fell in love with as a teenager in the 90’s definitely had a massive impact on me, especially Alice in Chains. The first time I heard them was the first time I really started wanting to write my own music. They were so real and authentic, and they weren’t afraid to write about taboo topics like depression and drug addiction. I suffered from severe depression from an early age. Listening to them, I felt like I wasn’t alone anymore. That’s one of the main reasons I write music today. I want to use music as a way to reach out to others who are hurting.
Randy: That’s noble and beautiful. How about you Ash?
Ash: The artists I started listening to in my teenage years had the most impact on the way I write music. When I first heard bands like Nine Inch Nails and Fear Factory, I guess it just kind of encouraged me to push the boundaries of what you can do with digital music. Since the old school rock format was getting stale at that point, I was looking for new and creative ways to make music. When Fear Factory’s Remanufacture album came out I was pretty blown away – I’d heard metal before and I’d heard digital before, just not together.
Randy: On now into the present, what recording artists are your biggest influences personally?
Photo from the Empathetic Apathy Photo Shoot
Em: I’d have to say Radiohead and The Dresden Dolls. Radiohead is one of the most innovative bands I’ve ever heard. Every album is so different, but no matter how much their sound changes from album to album, you still know it’s Radiohead. That just blows my mind. I hope to continue to grow and evolve as a musician, to keep pushing forward with no creative limitations or boundaries. The Dresden Dolls are such incredible artists, they’ve definitely had a huge impact on me as a musician. Amanda Palmer is so talented and passionate, so raw and real. Authenticity in music is something that I think is very important. I think it’s absolutely crucial to stay true to your artistic vision and write music that comes naturally, instead of trying to write what you think people will want to hear.
Ash: Björk has probably been one of my biggest influences. Her Debut album is still one of my all time favorites. Her sound was so different from anything I’d ever heard. Squarepusher has been another big influence of mine. I have always had such an appreciation for digital musicians who aren’t afraid to take risks and push boundaries.
Randy: What’s playing on your ipod (or whatever you use to listen to music with) lately?
Em: I’ve found so many amazing indie bands and artists this past year! IX is one of my new favorites, their new album “7302” is phenomenal. A few other incredible indie artists at the top of my playlist are De-Franco, Anodic8 and Eyemouth. And soundtracks – I’m hopelessly addicted to soundtracks! Currently I’m hooked on the Oblivion film soundtrack by M83.
Ash: Lately I’ve been on a kick listening to a lot of Purity Ring and The Ditty Bops. Bob Marley is an all-time favorite and he’s pretty much on constant rotation on my iPod. I’m a big fan of soundtracks too. Austin Wintory wrote an amazing score for the video game Journey. It’s one of the best I’ve ever heard.
Randy: Do you do any live shows? How would you describe them?
Ash: We’ve been so busy in the studio creating new material that we haven’t put a lot of focus into live performances yet, but we’re definitely contemplating it and putting together some ideas for a live performance that will be visually exciting for our audience. It will depend on what opportunities come our way, I think.
Em: I haven’t been on stage since I was a kid, but I am really looking forward to playing live! We have so many ideas and we want to put together the best visual show possible, so it might take a little time to get everything organized, but I definitely think we’ll be doing gigs in the near future.
Randy: What was your best or most memorable performance? (best or worst experience, whatever you like, or even both!)
Ash: I worked as a professional DJ for several years, and I’ve seen a lot of hilarious happenings, but the worst experience I’ve had was doing a last minute gig with a buddy of mine in Carbondale, IL. I was in college at the time, and when we were offered the gig we were both pretty stoked about it. We drove to the place, which turned out to be the diviest dive bar of all time, in one of the worst neighborhoods in town. All we had was my drum machine and a guitar, and we had no idea what they were expecting us to play. We just got up on stage and winged it. All things considered, I think we did a pretty good job, but it was definitely nerve-wracking.
Randy: Do you plan to stay as a duo for Plike? Does that seem to work best for you with how you work? In other words, do you find you do your best work alone, with another person to bounce ideas off of, or in a larger group? How does that work for you?
Ash: That’s a funny story actually, because we had both worked on music independently and together in the past, and I used to always work best on my own because it allowed me complete creative control. But I’ve come full circle, and now I greatly prefer working with Em because we’re both on the same wavelength and we can easily bring the best of both of our styles together. It just really clicks.
Em: I totally agree. It took a long time for me to figure out exactly which direction I wanted to go musically. We’ve run the gamut – rock, alternative, industrial, metal, electro-metal, ballads, ambient tracks and a lot of crazy experimental stuff. We’d both gotten frustrated trying create the exact “sound” we wanted the music to have. But now I feel like we’re both on the same creative path. Writing solo is definitely great because you do have total creative freedom, but I’ve had a lot more fun working on the new album with Ash. Our styles mesh perfectly and compliment each other.
Randy: Have you done any collaborations? And do you have any plans in the future for collaborations?
Em: I recently did a collaboration with Rob Bryant of Bare Island called “No Time”. He is an incredibly talented musician and producer, and we had a great time working on the track! We actually wanted to try to tackle another collab, but we wound up realizing that neither of us had the bandwidth to make it happen. (Em sent me the link for that and here it is)
Ash: I’ve done many collaborations in the past, but with Plike’s current momentum, I doubt I’ll be tackling any new collaborations any time soon.
Randy: If you weren’t doing music, what is the next thing closest to your heart you would be doing?
Ash: I realized early on that it’s crucial to be able to do something that you at least somewhat enjoy, if not love, for a living. We’ve all had soul-sucking jobs that get you nowhere, and life’s just too short. That was what ultimately led me to pursue an education in audio engineering / composition, and today I’m working professionally as a sound designer / composer in the video game industry. Being a hardcore gamer, it’s a good fit.
Em: The next closest thing to music that I would really love to focus on as a career is narrative design / scriptwriting for video games. I majored in creative writing, and I actually did work in game design for a while. My only claim to fame was penning dialogue for Mark Hamill to read, and actually getting to sit in on the voiceover session! I grew up absolutely obsessed with Star Wars, so that was a pretty major fangirl moment!
Randy: If you had to pick just one, which of your tunes means the most to you personally?
Cover of Plike’s debut EP ’47th Helen’
Em: I would definitely have to say “Lucy”. 47th Helen was inspired by the trauma I’ve experienced, and each track represents a different aspect of coping with trauma, whether it be a step toward recovery, a behavioral or emotional struggle, or a specific symptom that arises for trauma survivors as the brain attempts to process the trauma. My grandmother’s name was Lucy, and she was everything to me. “Lucy” was my attempt to express acceptance, but at the same time it’s an expression of my own struggle to let go of the grief of losing a loved one. This song has actually helped me to move forward and focus more on all the wonderful memories I have of her.
Ash: For me, it would be “Lessons in Futility”. I actually started writing the track about five years ago, but I had hit a brick wall with it and wasn’t sure which direction to take it. When Em suggested we resurrect it to see what we could do with it, I never would have guessed that it would come out as well as it did. We both like for people to take their own meanings from our songs, but with this track we wanted to make a strong statement about the futility of nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare and the inherent fear that those weapons of mass destruction foster in our society.
Randy: As a recording artist myself, one of the questions that is always intriguing to me is this: What’s the writing and recording process like for you?
Em: I actually have a little ritual that I do every time I go into the studio, before I start writing. I have a little statue of the Buddha that I set next to my keyboard, and I light a candle. I find it helps me to clear my mind and focus on the work. I generally write songs one piece at a time, so I’ll start with the intro, and usually either a simple drum beat or a bass line. I build on the intro until it’s completely where I want it, then I’ll move on to the first verse, or the next part of the song. Once it’s complete, I’ll move on to the chorus. I used to write everything with headphones and then do the final mix after the song was written, but I’ve found that mixing as I go is so much easier!
Ash: I usually start with the drums. I think of them as the “skeleton” of the song. Once I get the drums finished, I’ll start on a bass line and build on that. Sometimes the drums will change here or there, or I’ll add additional beats or swells, but usually once the drums are done, the rest of the song falls into place.
Randy: What do you find most challenging about being a recording artist?
Em: The toughest thing for me is the challenge of trying to get a message across in a song. I’m not a singer, so it really takes a lot of time and patience to piece together vocal samples to get them to express what you’re trying to say. The other challenge would be mastering. I’m just now starting to learn the mastering process, and it is intimidating!
Ash: The biggest challenge for me is time. Like so many musicians, I work full time, and quite often I have to put in overtime hours, which leaves me only a few hours a day during the week to focus on music. It’s also been tougher since I’ve been composing music and doing sound design for a living. By the time I get home, I have major ear fatigue, and sometimes even the thought of working on music after work is exhausting.
- “Mad Madam Em”
How would you describe yourself as a person? (i.e. funloving, carefree, wild n crazy, introspective, mysterious and brooding, etc) Em, you first:
Em: I’m very tuned into the people around me, so I tend to feel whatever they are feeling! I’ve been called an “empath” so I guess I’m Counselor Troi from Star Trek. Kidding!! J In all honesty though, the thoughts and feelings of others are truly always at the forefront of my mind, so I guess you could say I think emotionally, and tend to be very sensitive to the emotions of others around me.
Randy: I can sense that.
Ash: Em always calls me “Spock” because I tend to think logically rather than emotionally. I’m definitely introspective. I guess the truth is out now that we’re both a couple of Trekkies!
Randy: If you could tour with any artist you wanted who would it be and why?
Ash: Definitely Aphex Twin. Richard David James is a true artist when it comes to electronic music, and his style has been so incredibly influential to the way that we think of and view digital compositions.
Em: Gary Numan, hands down! I’ve been listening to his music for twenty years now, and his sound and style are just incredible. He also has had the courage to tackle some really heavy subjects in his music, something that a lot of musicians shy away from. I just have so much respect for him!
Randy: I agree! With the release of your new EP, do you have any thoughts or plans for what you might do next? Or has any new projects been thought about or discussed?
Em: We actually have two songs already in the works for our third EP, which we’ll be releasing in December 2015. Going forward, we’re planning to release a new EP every six months, until we’re able to focus on our music full time. After that, the sky’s the limit! I’m also working on composing a score for an independent film, and I’m about to start working on a remix track with another electronic artist for a compilation album that will be released by FLOE Records.
Randy: Achievements come in all sizes, big and small. What would you say is the most crowning achievement(s) for Plike up to this point?
Ash: Having our music accepted by Pandora Radio was such an honor, I’d definitely have to say that would be our crowning achievement so far. It’s just incredible to have our music played alongside so many other fantastic artists that we have so much respect for.
Em: I’m incredibly proud that three of our tracks will be featured in the upcoming independent feature film, Windsor Drive. I got to see a private screening of the film a few months ago, and Natalie Bible’, the director of the film, is truly an artistic genius. I really think this film is going to knock people’s socks off! Here’s a sneak peek: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vacs4-KrBM
Randy: That’s great! Best wishes with everything for Plike! Thanks for taking so much time to chat and let everyone get to know you and your music more.
Em and Ash: It was so awesome to have the chance to talk with you today, we really enjoyed chatting with you! Thanks so much again for doing this, you’ll never know how much we appreciate your kindness and generosity!!
You can connect with and find music by Plike at the following links:
Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Buy on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/katherine/id942729543?i=942729549