Home Studio Stories: devəlmāˈker

We’re back with another round of Home Studio Stories, and this time, I had the pleasure of chatting with Doug McCarthy, who makes music under the moniker devəlmāˈker (pronounced “devil may care”). He talked a little bit about stepping out of his comfort zone and jumping into the world of self-production. Most importantly, he talks about the importance of pushing past the fear of doing something new. Just pick up that guitar and say, “here goes nothing.

At the time of this interview, devəlmāˈker put out Antonym Pt. 1, a collection of gorgeous indie folk tracks. The songs are primarily acoustic, with the occasional dreamy electric guitar riff and piano flourish. Since our interview, he’s released a collaboration with Rainy Day for Ghosts and a pre-save link for the upcoming if a tree falls…, so be sure to check those out as well.

Hey Doug, thank you for chatting with me today! To kick everything off – how would you describe your sound?

I guess if I had to describe it in one word, I would say sad. Lyrically, anyways. I don’t think I’m really capable of writing a happy song. I’m still trying to figure out why that is, because I’m not a sad person! I have an amazing life, an amazing wife, an amazing daughter. But when my creativity comes out, it just always ends up being sad!

The first three songs I released are more acoustic-based, which is part one of an eventual album. But part two and three I’m writing as I go. My main instrument is drums – I’ve been playing since I was thirteen, and I’m almost forty now. I always wanted to make indie folk music, but I was like, “I don’t really know how to play guitar, I’m not super confident in singing either, but what the hell, let’s just try it!” And I think it came out pretty cool.

Yeah, it did! I wouldn’t have thought you were primarily a drummer just from hearing those first three songs.

Yes, yeah, that’s my main instrument. This was me putting myself out there in a completely different way. It was definitely nerve-wracking to do. And these next songs that’ll come out are still all me, but there will be actual drums and different instrumentation, so I’m excited about that.

How many instruments do you play total, then?

Well, besides this, I produce music for other artists, but completely out of my genre. More like R&B and stuff like that. I make the beat, do guitar, bass, piano on the MIDI keyboard. These next songs will have more of a full band feel – electric guitar, bass, real drums, and I bought a ukulele recently! I’m kind of all over the place, but it’s fun being able to play a bunch of different things. I’m still learning as I go for most of them.

It’s funny because when I record something, I have no idea what chord I’m playing or any music theory or anything, I just say, “oh this sounds cool,” and try to find things that go with it. If I come up with a new idea, I’ll film myself playing it so I know what I did, because if I just hear it? I really won’t know what it was!

If you’re improvising more and learning on the fly, I guess that would be one of the benefits of self-producing, right? Do you think self-producing is more freeing in that way?

I mean, yes and no. Especially with some of the instruments I’m not completely comfortable with, I won’t show it to anyone – not even my wife – until it’s done. I get kind of self-loathing and nervous about it, where I’ll do something and think it sounds good, then listen to it back and be like, “oh I don’t know,” and just completely overthink it.

Sometimes, I’ll have an idea in my head and I’ll have no idea how to execute that. It’s not like I can mouth the idea to someone and they can automatically do it because they’re more proficient. It takes longer to do things because I’m trying to figure stuff out as I go. But, I’m kind of used to working alone, and plus I don’t get a lot of time alone anymore because I have a one-and-a-half-year-old so I’ll take what I can get!

Something I noticed with “Antonym Pt. 1” was that it was very intimate, which I liked. Especially with that opening, the “well here goes nothing” – it’s very charming and sets up the songs very well.

Thanks! And that’s kind of my whole thing with this too, like – “I can’t believe I’m doing this but, here we go!”

I like that! Does recording in your own home lend itself well to that kind of intimate sound?

Yes, yes. Definitely going to be some different vibes on the other songs, but just with the environment I’m in, it lends itself well to that. I’m in an enclosed room, just me, and so it just comes out – sometimes without me even thinking about it.

What’s next for you after these songs, then? Antonym parts 2 and 3?

Yup! There will be three parts, ten or twelve songs. And once I get them all done, I want to re-release it as a full album, change up the tracklist, and include demos for each song as well. I’ve always been fascinated with where a song can start from a super simple idea compared to the final product.

With having a young daughter, do you have to tip-toe around making music and keep things quiet?

So, the room that I’m in now – I work from home, so it’s like, I have my computer here, my music monitor, and then my work monitor is right next to it. Because I work from home, she just hangs out with me in here. But at night, when I’m making music, it’s pretty far away from where she’s sleeping. I recorded a lot of the acoustic while she was asleep, actually, and she didn’t wake up. I’m still probably quieter than I need to be, but I’m able to do what I need.

What is it like trying to balance work life, home life, and then making music?

With the making music, I kind of have to do it between the hours of 9pm and…whenever I want to go to bed. Sometimes I’m up later than I should, since I have to work at 9am the next morning. But I don’t have to travel since I work from home, so that helps.

I’m in this room A LOT – 8 hours a day at work, a few hours at night for music. But it’s worked, I’ve made the songs out now and a few demos in here. It’s organized chaos.

That’s the one thing that always hangs me up, personally. Working, driving home, and then being too exhausted to move forward with creative things. Having everything centralized in one space like what you have must be really nice.

Yeah, it really is. Plus, I don’t have any real deadlines for my music, so there’s freedom there. But if I don’t set some sort of deadline for myself, I’ll never do it. It’s an entirely new thing for me – this is the first time where I’m writing everything, playing everything, and just trying to fight the “you suck” in the back of my mind all the time while I’m doing it. It takes longer than I want, but I try to set some sort of a schedule. When I put it on DistroKid, it takes a few weeks for it to actually release, so I map it out – if I want it released on this date, I need to have it done earlier by this date to get it mastered, stuff like that.

That first part was definitely a learning process, but now from doing that and finding a person to master it who can give me good mix notes, I kind of know the next round won’t take as long. But of course, I have to GET the songs done first.

Do you still play drums for other bands?

I haven’t in a while. I did so much for so long and then got burned out by the whole thing. One of the last bands I was in was called The Higher, and they were on Epitaph. I joined in 2007. For two and half years I was with them and we were all over the place. It was getting frustrating, though – I wasn’t making ANY money. As much as I was blessed to be able to travel and do music for a living, I got to a certain point where – it’s like, I love music, but I don’t always love everything that comes with it. So, I took a break, got a “real job,” and then once I moved to South Carolina in 2015, I ended up joining a band kind of by accident almost! We played a few shows around here, nothing crazy, and I would have my drums set up in this room.

Once my daughter was along the way, I knew she’d be in here a lot and drums take up a lot of room, so I packed everything away. Still air drum to everything, though! And then, I kind of veered towards, “well, I can’t do drums but I want to do music in SOME way,” which is how I started producing for other people and pursued self-producing my own stuff.

Speaking of working with other artists, have you been able to collaborate with other musicians during the pandemic? I know for many it’s a problem when you can only connect with musicians online as opposed to naturally at a show.

I live in an area that’s super tourist-y so there are a ton of bands. But they’re all cover bands! I’m near a ton of musicians, but not necessarily original musicians. And really, the only time I sought out other musicians was when I was in bands.

With the first collection of songs, I did something I was really proud of on my own. And with the next batches, I might be like – okay, who can I get to play this and who can I get to do that and go from there. But I’m not a super sociable person, I’m not really one to reach out like that.

Oh, I totally get that. I’m the same way.

Right, it’s like, even when I was on stage, I had the drums there as a barrier. In person I’m very reserved, but on the drums, I am not! But once the show is over and I don’t have drums in front of me, I’m like, “okay…I don’t have anything in front of me now, so I’ll be over here.” I’ll talk to people if they come up to me, of course!

Can you walk me through your home set-up a bit?

Yeah! So, I have my desk right here, my external monitor for my Mac. I have a couple of audio interfaces. I have a little MIDI keyboard. I also have a condenser microphone, a dynamic microphone, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, drums, that ukulele I just bought…all in this one little area, everything I need.

I actually don’t have monitors at all because I figured, well, I’m doing this all at night. I need to be somewhat quiet. So, I just use certain headphones for recording and then another for mixing. Eventually I want monitors, but the way things are right now, I don’t really need them.

I’m a little shy about that, though, because I follow these accounts on Instagram where people post their studios and they look amazing. And it’s like well, I’d love for it to look like that, but that’s just not gonna happen. It seems weird not to have all that or have monitors, and eventually I want to paint the walls and get some hardwood on the floor and get a better looking aesthetic, but right now? It’s not a lot, but it does what I need.

That’s all that counts! That’s part of what I want to highlight with this series, too –that you don’t HAVE to have a big massive studio. I hear other artists being a little self-conscious about their set-ups, too, but it’s like – what you might think is too limited or unimpressive, someone else will look at it and say, “oh that’s really impressive, I can set something up that way and record cool stuff, too!”

Yes, yeah. In the grand scheme of things, you really don’t need a lot. I’ve got the Mac, interface, Logic, instruments…that’s really all I need. On these first three songs, when I did the demos for them, I literally recorded them on my iPad on Garage Band to get the ideas. Do they sound great? No! But they’re just demos.

And with more people being at home and labels just not having the money, a lot of people do it at home now! You literally just need a laptop, interface, and an instrument, and you can do it. You can make something that sounds great.

Follow devəlmāˈker over on Twitter, check out his bandcamp, and stream Antonym Pt. 1 wherever you get your music!

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