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When you record in your bedroom the entire world is your playground

interview: Daniel Perlaky
images: courtesy Colin Caulfield

After a few experimental shows in Paris while away for school, Colin Caulfield, also known as Young Man, re-emerged nonchalantly in his home of Chicago and more or less took over with the subdued intelligence of his songwriting and vibrancy of his delivery. My good friend Nathan Christ passed along some of Colin's recent tracks after having spent some time filming him in Chicago for our upcoming Echotone miniseries, giving him his full vote of confidence.

Having just released the first of an album triptych on forward-thinking label Frenchkiss, the young gentleman paused between train ride writing sessions to converse for a moment.

Is it out of necessity or desire that you're so involved with every aspect of the music creation?

I think that most people like to be pretty hands on!  But I think me being especially involved has a lot to do with my start with bedroom recording. I was able to be so intensely meticulous with every aspect of my work... It's difficult to remove myself from that sort of standard and mentality. 

Do you already have a vision for each track when you begin or does it develop through some process of experimentation as you work through recording?

I almost always start with a melody, progression, or rhythmic idea and work from there.  I like when songs progress naturally and I find it's easiest to achieve that sound by letting the songwriting and record process take place organically. 

I'm really enjoying writing the music, but I'm not going to be a young man for very long and by then I hope I'll have different experiences and ideas to explore and discuss.

What's the oddest techniques or equipment you've used in your recordings?

I don't know much about mic placement for recording particular instruments so I generally experiment each time.  This is terrible for trying to recreate a specific sound, but produces great surprises.  On "Felt", the last song on the new record, there's a really droney distorted section during the middle.  I created that distortion by recording a clean amp with a room mic and a Logic Pro plug-in with the distortion way up.  So the resonance of a certain chord would get distorted really well and tonally, but as it decayed the room sounds or things happening outside would get distorted as well.  I prefer to do try techniques like that rather than just throwing a preset on (although I do that too).

You've directed a few music videos for your songs, do you think those help clarify or expand the songs in some way?

Yeah, a little bit.  I wrote this record to be very filmic.  I use filmic as opposed to cinematic because I think there's a kind of universal understanding of cinematic music as epic and huge.  That's definitely a sound I enjoy and go for at times, but I filmic refers more to the way I structure my songs.  I don't really write using a lot of repetition that is so common in pop music (verse, verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus, etc..).  Instead, my songs tend to have parts and movements that flow into each other.  That's both positive and negative.  It's hard to make pop music that is engaging and memorable without repeating hooks (and I'm pretty jealous of people who do it well).  Considering this tendency I decided to really push it and structure the songs and album the same way a film generally is, with the repetition of motifs and melodic ideas.  In great movies, there's a sense of cohesion that's a product of this repetition, but it functions completely differently than repetition in pop music.  For example, a scene in a movie is almost never repeated in the same way a chorus recurs in a song.  So, the videos were conceived around the same time and similarly vignettey, but they don't offer too much in terms of direct interpretation of lyrics.

As an artist do you see multi-media projects start to blur the boundaries between mediums or are there clear separations between audio, visual, and interactivity?

Great question.  I think music is one of the best art forms, because it lends itself so well as a soundtrack to other mediums such as dance and film, but can nonetheless function excellently on its own.  Ballet isn't as beautiful without music, but the aural accompaniment can still be breathtaking.  Granted, that has to do with my own interests as an artist and lover of art, but I think it rings true in a lot of people.  As far as interactivity, it's not something I'm too interested in quite yet.

In the future how would you like to be pleasantly surprised by how people engage with your work?  Would you want them to sit quietly and listen to a vinyl with expensive headphones on or interact with some sort of holographic representation of you giving a "personal" concert in the bedrooms of your 100,000 closest fans simultaneously? 

I read an article recently about the dismal quality of not only the mp3, but the equipment the majority of music listeners use to experience music.  I wish I could better remember the details, but there's a foreign company that's currently developing an absurdly expensive home, true surround stereo system - one that accounts not just for stereo panning, but also depth of sounds as they were recorded in a studio.  A lot of it went over my head, but if that's any indication of things to come, I wouldn't mind my audience being surrounded by dozens of staggered speakers.

Speaking of data, do you think we're all essentially just bits and bytes of data, wether biological or technological or whatever?  Or do you think there's more to us than our genetic code and objects that expand our awareness of our surroundings and if so what is it that separates our being from being neatly distilled into on and off binary pieces of information?

I think it's incredibly easy to dwell on the insignificance of human life, but that's ultimately pointless.  I can be a collection of data bytes just as I am a collection of cells... doesn't really matter to me.

Can you recall a time that your mind was well and truly blown by something or someone?

The first time I saw the Dirty Projectors, my mind was legitimately blown.  They're far and away the best live band touring in terms of musicianship.  That kind of changed my life, seeing them.

You have the ambitious plan to put out three records within a year... is this because you already have the material or is it because you know you've tapped into a well of creativity that needs to be explored now and not a few years from now?  Are you ever concerned that you may peak early and then float into oblivion and live out your remaining years yearning for those moments of clarity from the first records or is an artist always evolving regardless of status and output?

I'm not at all concerned about that...  I'm confident that I'll continue to evolve.  As for the three records, I have them written, but more importantly would like to move on from this project as soon as I can.  I'm really enjoying writing the music, but I'm not going to be a young man for very long and by then I hope I'll have different experiences and ideas to explore and discuss.

When you're wanting a mainline of creative input where in Chicago do you go and why?

My creative energy doesn't seem to rely on any location or circumstance..  Sometimes I'll just wake up and know that it's going to be a productive day.  Oftentimes, though, I write while I'm walking or riding the train.  Come to think of it, I've written a lot while waiting for and riding the CTA!

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