This is the first piece in our new series, “Home Studio Stories.” In these articles, we chat with musicians who make music on a budget at home. Not only do we want to highlight these excellent artists (our mission is to celebrate independent music, after all!), but we also want to demystify the world of music production and show that it is very possible to make great art without a giant record deal or a bajillion dollar studio.
New Hampshire-based synth-pop artist The City View, aka Ian Anderson, crafts vast electronic soundscapes from the comfort of his own bedroom. The music he creates envelops you – it’s the sort of thing you could put on while driving alone late at night, rain blearing your windshield and refracting the streetlights. The City View’s most recent album, Rain For the Ready, especially lends itself to this atmosphere.
Last month, Ian sat down with us to chat a little bit about the project, how the pandemic has changed his approach to music, and what it’s like crafting these lush limitless tunes in a comparatively small space.
Can you tell me a little bit about The City View and how the project came about?
So, I’m 28, and I’ve actually been doing this since I was a freshman in high school, so like, fourteen years or so? Back then it came about because I wanted to make stuff on my computer with Garageband…well technically, on my parents’ computer. I’ve always done things from home, so nothing has changed for me in that sense with the pandemic. But what has changed is not playing shows and not being able to connect with other musicians in person.
Have you been able to do any live shows since the pandemic started?
I really would like to play shows but it’s like…because I work, I don’t need to play shows to make money, not that I was making that much money playing shows before. I’m just not going to risk it if it’s not necessary. I really would like to start playing again eventually, but it’ll depend on the mask situation and numbers.
Did you do online collaborations before the pandemic at all, or is that a new thing you had to navigate?
I did that before, I actually have produced a lot of beats for rappers and stuff. So that was all done online, I would very rarely meet people in person for that. But it definitely became more of a go-to during the pandemic, especially before the vaccines. It was straight to online. It wasn’t like, “let’s meet up and jam,” it was “well let’s just send some files back and forth.”
Speaking of collaborations, I did see the music video for “Museum of Science.” What was it like filming that?
It was really cool! We did that in person, obviously. I’m listed as a co-director, but really, my friend Ryan Burnham pretty much came up with everything. I had vague general ideas of stuff. It was kind of nice because I would just kind of show up, and he’d be like, “let’s try this, you stand over here.”
We did some of that in an apartment building that had a game room and a pinball machine, which is where some of the flashing light stuff comes from. And then there was a car wash that had really bright purple and red lights, so we went there, too. It was around midnight, so it was fun just walking around there and kind of loitering.
That’s always exciting, what do they call that…guerilla style? When you just show up when no one is around to film, no permits.
Yeah, like, we didn’t go inside or anything obviously, but it was still really cool. I really like watching music videos, so it was cool being able to make one and still get to enjoy the end product. He edited everything, I wasn’t there for any of that, so it was really cool being there for filming and then a week or two later getting a music video and getting to watch it.
It’s cool because a lot of people don’t really get to make music videos. It’s not totally accessible. Not that recording music is necessarily inexpensive, but when you add the video aspect, it can get really pricey.
Yeah, I have to say, he did it at a really low price for me so that helped a lot, too. [laughs]
A track that stood out to me was “You Can’t Make Your Bed and Eat It Too.” It had a sort of post-rock sound, which I thought was neat. Is it you doing all of the instrumentation?
How many instruments do you play?
I play drums, piano, guitar – those are the main things. I play bass, but I don’t consider myself a bass player, really. I play a little bit of banjo. I mess around with harmonica. Oh, and I also play the synthesizer.
Are you working full time in addition to making music?
I am, I work in a warehouse.
What’s it like trying to balance work and music? For me, I have a hard time coming home and getting into a creative mindset. Do you have that issue?
It depends on the day, really. What I find has been happening recently is that at work, I’ll be super motivated – not about work, but about making music. I’ll be fantasizing about it, like, “oh, I’m going to start this song or finish that song.” And then I’ll get home and go to wind down and be like, “hmm, I’m going to watch TV instead, actually.” So I don’t force myself, and since I’m doing everything on my own, there’s no deadline.
But then sometimes, I come straight home and turn my computer on and just start doing stuff. I just really enjoy making music. It’s fun for me, and it’s fulfilling. Plus, I don’t really do anything else anyway [laughs]. Especially right now with COVID, I’m not going out to bars or going out to shows like I used to because I just don’t feel comfortable. So that’s helped, I’ve made more music in the last two years than I have in the six years before that.
Can you walk me through some of what you use for your set-up?
Absolutely! So I have all my guitars and stuff, and my banjo. I have some shakers and a slide for playing slide guitar.
And then I have my computer with my keyboard here, with the typing keyboard and the mouse separate. My speakers and headphones are here, and then I have this very makeshift acoustic treatment. Which is just a moving blanket…I have no idea if I placed that stuff properly, so. [laughs]
Then I have the microphone and interface that all plugs into a Mac Mini right here. And then I have my electronic drum set. Which pretty much occupies my whole bedroom!
What software do you typically use to produce your songs?
I use Logic Pro.
Does recording in a smaller space affect the tone of the music you record? Like, does it lend itself well to an intimate sound, or do you have to work around it to make it sound like what you want?
I guess in some ways. I live in an apartment, so I just try not to make a lot of noise either way. I’m maybe a little more likely to play quieter parts and layer quieter things on top of each other. But then, kind of going back to the technology thing, you can do so much with editing that you can make something sound like it was recorded in a huge cave or something.
So, I try not to let it limit me but I’m sure it probably does. Especially with vocals, like sometimes I want to sing a little more loudly and project a little bit more, but it’s like, 9:30pm at my apartment so I’m going to force myself to sing quieter. But I like singing quieter, so it’s okay!
When it comes to self-producing, do you find it freeing to have total control of what you’re doing? Or do you view it as more limiting?
I find it freeing. I mean, I personally like collaborating with people and I do that for other projects. But at the same time, I like being able to start something from nothing and just do whatever I want to it.
I also like the time aspect. Like, if I feel super motivated I can make a song in a few days and release it the next week. I like the freedom of being able to release and record it how I want. I’m sure I could use another person as a filter from time to time to be like, “ehhh, don’t play that part,” though.
Last but not least, what’s next for you? Any new music coming?
I have another full length coming, all the songs are already written and recorded, I just have to mix it and finalize the tracklist. I actually have a decent amount of songs, so I need to narrow it down to ten or twelve. Hopefully, by the end of June, that’ll be out.
Check out The City View’s music over on Bandcamp, follow their Twitter and Instagram, and more right here from this handy linktree.