Artist of the Month: AM Static

Photo by MAP Photography

Photo by MAP Photography

Meet April's Artist of the Month, AM Static. When it was announced that Calgary band, AM Static, was nominated for Electronic Album of the Year at this year's JUNO Awards, we'll admit we hadn't ever heard of the duo. We quickly remedied that and checked out their debut album, A Life Well Lived, and caught them live at Calgary's SoundOff Music Festival and fell in love with their sound. With April and the JUNOs coming up, we knew definitely needed to get them on the site as an Artist of the Month as soon as possible.

We talked to AM Static's Chris Austman and Nils Mikkelsen about their JUNO nomination, their place in Calgary's music scene, where they find inspiration and what they have planned next.

Under The Rockies: Congrats on your JUNO nomination! How did you find out about the nomination? Did they tell you or did you find out when they announced it?
It was the announcement. They don’t let anybody know in advance of that, as far as I know. I was making coffee in the kitchen, coming to life first thing in the morning and my wife was getting ready for an appointment when she got a call from a friend of hers telling her we got the nomination. I didn’t entirely hear it at first because all I could hear was noise from the other room of my wife going, “Wait, wait, what!? JUNOs!?”. And then it crossed my mind like, “Oh, I wonder if that means we got a nomination”. She came in, told me about it and my first thought was, “I better confirm this before I tell anyone else”. I went on Twitter and there it was, a shot of the band and the other four nominees. I sent Nils a message and the rest is a bit of a blur.

How does the nomination process work? Do you have to submit your music for consideration?
Yes. The JUNOs are split up in a couple of different ways. There are the larger, commercial categories, Recording of the Year, Group of the Year, Best New Artist, stuff like that is not submission based, it’s selections made according to sales. When it comes to the other artistic categories, Electronic Artist, Alternative Album, Instrumental, not the necessarily mainstream categories, those ones artists and their representatives submit their work for consideration. We actually got a tweet directly from the JUNO Awards Twitter account that was just said, “Check out this record by AM Static”. Showing us that kind of love tipped us off it might be a good idea to submit the album.

So they were aware of you before you submitted it?
There was an awareness there and, because that happened, I thought, “You know what, we’d probably be really silly if we didn’t at least consider submitting”. I guess that message was the one I was supposed to get.

Do you hope your nomination brings some awareness to more underrepresented Calgary talent?
When Reuben and the Dark signed to Arts & Crafts, being from Calgary, a lot of people felt like there was a little more attention on Calgary. When something good happens in a scene that’s small it invariably has a bit of a ripple effect. There’s been a couple more acts coming out of Calgary, Braids is initially from Calgary, Reuben Bullock is from Calgary, Viet Cong is from Calgary, it all helps to establish Calgary as a legitimate part of the Canadian music scene. In terms of what it’s going to do for other artists, even on that scale, we’re relatively on the smaller side, especially being studio based we don’t have a ton of local exposure because most of our stuff is done though the internet. We’re definitely optimistic about the future and hopefully it provides us an opportunity to work with some of the great artists in Calgary and abroad we really want to work with.
Chris: Also, every opportunity we get, when we’re talking to people in other areas of the industry, we try to make mention some other artists around town who are making really impressive work and deserve recognition.

How did you discover and start playing music?
Nils: I started playing piano when I was 3 and then I went into band class when I was 11 and I started playing guitar when I was 14 and then I never really did anything else. That’s how it went. For me it wasn’t a choice at all, it was what I did. I feel like a career criminal in some ways.
Chris: I started singing around the age 3 and 4 and I started piano lessons when I was 10 and I started playing guitar when I was 14 as well. The whole journey of music was a bit of a different was. I kept with it, I knew I loved doing it but I was 16 when I wrote my first song and didn’t pick it up in earnest again until I was 19 or 20, when I started writing a lot more. That momentum of writing songs never left me. It’s always a strange journey with ups and downs and dealing with a block here and there. It’s such a constant process but, I don’t exactly remember when it was, I found myself unable to stop writing music. Probably somewhere around 24.

How did AM Static come about? How did you two meet and start collaborating?
Nils: We met working at Long & McQuade music store in Calgary and we both bonded over a similar interest in electronic music and we were both separately working on our own projects and decided to try a collaboration. We had a good writing chemistry right off the bat we both felt very good about and that was almost five years ago. That’s how we met.

You started as a duo but you’ve added a drummer and a bassist. Are they more for live performances or do you hope to capture a fuller band sound when recording as well?
Nils: The new album we’re currently working on, a lot of the drums are a total mix of program drums and real drums. The album nominated right now switches between the two. The musicians are very integral in our live set because we really enjoy having them live. The drummer, Matt Doherty, especially because he’s been playing with us since our first release. He’s now played on three of our records, our on EP and two of our records including one not released yet. He’s a very integral part of the sound and we actually got a new bass player. The writing process and the studio tends to be Chris and I but Matt has been playing with us for so long I subconsciously write parts around what I know he’s good at playing, because he really gets our style.

What will your next album sound like? Do you want your next album to be in the same vein as A Life Well Lived?
Nils: I would say it’s a little bit more on the electronic side. I would say it’s sonically more of a fantastic sounding album.
Chris: Every artist or every musician, especially when releasing albums, wants to capture that right mix of maintaining the styles they’re known for while at the same time presenting something that shows growth of the process and what they accomplished. We’re feeling really, really good about this new one because it does present a lot of the elements we loved about A Life Well Lived but, at the same time, it’s definitely reflective of a lot of the new things we’ve learned from that process.
Nils: Especially from making A Life Well Lived, it really formed how to proceed forward and, after that, we looked at everything we thought was our most favourite and what we thought was most successful about the record and tried to write a bunch of new material in that style. We tried to capitalize on what we felt were our strong suits.
Chris: New material that would build upon that.

Besides yourselves and your band, would you be open to any other collaborations with musicians or producers?
Nils: We’re always open to working with other people but, for right now, we’re mainly focused on promotion for A Life Well Lived and getting ready for some of the shows and stuff we have coming up. We’re doing a video session with Tourism Calgary and we’re playing JUNOfest and we’re opening for Laser from Toronto. We have a crazy month ahead of us and also we’re trying to make it through that without dying.

When it comes to creating new music, where do you both draw inspiration from?
Nils: Everything.
Chris: It’s not that we want to give you a vague answer, inspiration can be found in anything. For folks like Nils and I, we both have a tendency to listen to the world in a very literal way. We can hear something that sounds interesting in music that is going on or in the clink-clank of a water heater turning on or the wind banging a shutter open and closed. It can come from anywhere as long as you’re remaining receptive to what the world is doing around you. There’s a very high likelihood you’re gonna find something that interests you enough to spark the beginning of an idea. 

Do you find creating electronic music is different from creating any other genre of music?
Nils: Yeah, for sure. Every genre of music has its own rules, has its own guidelines, whether you realize it or not, you end up following. Writing electronic music is a lot of time spent in front of the computer and learning how to work with two people in front of one computer, it takes very complimentary personalities to make that work. That, for me, is the biggest difference. You spend a lot of time with real instruments and getting our sound from organic places but, invariably, it’s a lot of tedious, going over every detail and we’ve had to do that collaboratively so it’s very much the two of us sitting in front of the computer which you don’t do in any other style of music.
Chris: That being said, one of the things we enjoy about it is the fact that when we are exhausted by the drier side of things with the computer, we do have the option to go out into the world and go on those fun adventures of recording bits of that in the world or trying to interact specifically with electronic instruments that don’t have screens because that certainly is a big portion of the building block, either before we hit the computer or even after we’ve set down the idea into our recording software, if we want to go after some other sounds. It’s a funny mix, you’re always going to have that situation where you have your crafts person and then you have their tools and the two of them have to work together. One of the nice things about electronic music is the number of tools you can employ is limitless. 

A lot of people know Calgary music as being sort of a weird pop/rock hybrid but when I saw you live, it was primarily electronic and hip-hop acts. How do you think you fit into the Calgary scene?
Nils: I don’t know if we do but if you’re fitting into a scene, you probably don’t have anything original to say anyways. There are some great electronic artists in Calgary like Aleem Khan and Beach Season but we’re a small group of people and from what I see, working in the Calgary music scene for my day job, is, you’re right, it’s a lot of rock and it’s a lot of country that Calgary is definitely known for. That makes it a little more fun, to be outside that because there’s not as much stuff outside of that.

What does AM Static have planned for the rest of the year?
Chris: The rest of the year is likely going to be devoted to things that allow us to release the new album likely in 2017. We definitely don’t want to set any dates down because, making the last record, we learned a lot in terms of not over-promising when it’s going to come out because it really has to be done right. We’re going to be putting a lot of effort into continuing the plugging of A Life Well Lived and using the clout we’ve got from this nomination to get our foot in the door to get some better funding so the next album can be everything we’re hoping for.