Kodomo talks concepts, new releases and electronic music inspirations
We spoke to Chris Childs, aka Kodomo, about how his forthcoming EP, his favourite artists as well as the meaning behind his mysteriously titled tracks. His debut album Still Life, released in 2008 on 5 Points Records, has always been a personal favourite of mine. Since then he self-released the 2011 album Frozen In Motion, whilst a third album, Patterns & Light, arrived in 2014.
First off, tell me about the name Kodomo, how did that come about?
So Kodomo means “Child” in Japanese — which is my last name — I grew up in Japan most of my childhood. It just seemed fitting when I started doing remixes and was asked what my “moniker” was.
How did you get into creating electronic music?
I started around 17 in my bedroom with a synth and drum machine. I was very much inspired by the music I was exploring at the time — a combo of industrial electronic bands such as Skinny Puppy, Front 242, einstürzende neubauten, NIN, and composers such as Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Wendy Carlos. My interest tended to gravitate toward the instrumental side of their music — the sounds were fascinating to me - and I felt what they were doing was a completely new way of thinking about music — it was more like visual art and collage and that really appealed to me.
When you're writing music do you have a theme in mind?
99% of the time I don’t have a particular theme in mind! I do however have a set of “instructions” that I prepared beforehand for a given EP or album project. The instructions serve as an outline for the project and help keep my aesthetic direction focused. They can be pretty detailed — including specific software and gear to use and to NOT use, as well as compositional and sound design approaches and non musical themes to explore.
I tend to spend a lot of time researching and contemplating this phase since it will inform the approach I spend the next months working on. Once I’ve established a direction — it can inevitably change, and I try to be receptive to when its working or when I’m just distracting myself! To me, cultivating an original voice in music is a culmination of intensely studying the music you love, trying various techniques and approaches that inspire you, and then just letting the connections develop over time.
I always found it interesting that all the tracks on Still Life are numbered concepts in seemingly no particular order – is there a story behind that?
All the tracks on Still Life are inspired by these photos I took — so rather than name them, I thought I’d associate a particular photo with each. They aren’t in order because I originally wrote 17 “concepts” to 17 photos and singled out 9 of them for the release. The remaining “concepts” are forever archived on a hard drive locked in storage!
I’m an enormous Boards of Canada fan, I hear a lot of similarity between some of your tracks and theirs, especially for example, Concept 15 and Roygbiv. Are they one of the groups that inspired you to start making music?
Yeah for sure — I’m also an enormous fan. I’d say BOC, along with Aphex Twin, Plaid, and Autechre all motivated me to create and release my own instrumental electronic music. Before that, there weren’t many artists who were releasing instrumental electronic music. I think they paved the way for so many artists today with their unique non genera specific approach — they were just interested in creating compelling music using the current technology available in completely new ways.
On that same note who are your main influences?
Too long to fully list but here are a few: Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, NIN, Skinny Puppy, Einstürzende Neubauten, Boards Of Canada, Aphex Twin, Plaid, Autechre, Orbital, Underworld, Public Enemy, Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan, DJ Krush, Tricky, Brian Eno, Wendy Carlos, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Arvo Part, and for Classical: J.S. Bach, Franz Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart.
What type of music do you like to listen to in your spare time?
A lot of classical music — from early music through 20th century. The more “minimal experimental” spectrum of techno, hip hop, traditional music, ambient music, film music soundtracks.
Are there are any up and coming artists you have your eye on?
So many — thanks to streaming. Artists such as Taylor Deupree, Rafael Anton Irisarri, Deru, and Loscil are creating amazing music that stretches beyond just what can be labeled as ambient. FJAAK just released a fantastic album with such raw energy — I love their approach to techno. Other bands which get heavy rotation in my playlists include Tobacco, Patten, Survive, Symbion Project, and Kodacrome.
Do you feel like you’ve evolved as a musician since you started? If so, in what ways do you think you’ve changed?
Yes — when I started releasing in 2008 — Still Life was an album that I feel was more of an accumulation of my influences. I think that since then (and particularly with my upcoming EP) I’ve been more deliberate about my approach in both the composition and production. I’ve been pickier about what I decide is “good” and have spent a lot more time on tracks in general. I also think I’ve had the time and perspective to have a stronger sense of what I want to do having built on my previous releases and learned what I liked and what I didn’t like. Of course my musical and non musical interests continue to evolve, and they inform the new music I work on too.
I think what I’m working on now (with my upcoming EP) feels more focused and integrated in both the composition and sound design, and definitely more emotionally charged than Still Life.
It’s a question I almost hate to ask as I feel it almost completely irrelevant, but I always get interesting answers so it’s one I tend to include: If you had to categorise your music in terms of genre where do you think it would fall?
Ha! Well, I guess the the broad word “electronic” doesn’t really say much. “Cinematic Techno”?! I dunno...
So I think I read somewhere that you’re an Emmy award winner – Is that correct? Do you do a lot of work for television?
Yes, my work as a composer for TV has long since been my bread and butter. Though I’m finally starting to see a decent portion from Kodomo. Composing for TV has always been interesting to me and different from working on album projects. I’ve learned that my work in each informs the other. Scoring, in a way is more experimental and is a great way to just try different approaches in getting a particular sound that sets an emotional tone. It keeps me constantly searching for new ways to work on getting sounds. It also forces me to make decisions faster since I don’t have the luxury of long deadlines!
Tell me about the new EP – you mentioned its out in June, can you tell us anything about it?
Well it will be 7 new songs — the June release date is a projection based on where things are at now. I just completed the mixes last week and they are currently being mastered. I am working out the release date and will announce that soon. The songs are inspired by the current interests and events in my life, and there is a reference to the 1927 film “Metropolis” in one of the songs!
Your music is remixed a lot, do you enjoy having your work reconstructed in that manner?
Absolutely love it! Its one of the most rewarding things really — to hear what artists who I love do with my songs.
Do you enjoy collaborations? Do you have any planned?
Very much. I have one collaboration planned this year working with a classical pianist. It's a project I’m really excited about and draws from my passion for classical and electronic music.
I gather from your Facebook posts that you’re a bit of a vinyl junkie– are you still collecting or is this all stuff from the past?
No — I’m a new vinyl junkie! I actually have a pretty small collection — probably around 150 or so records at this point. And I’m definitely still collecting, and need to slow down. Everyone is putting out vinyl now and it all looks gorgeous.
So what does 2017 hold, you’ve got the new EP coming out, anymore music? Any remixes? Live shows?
Yes — new EP coming, and a follow up of remixes after that. Live shows will be announced after they are worked out. I’m currently completely re-doing my live setup from scratch. It's a lot of work but will be worth it.