Power Player #33: Str8-Bit
photo by Shane Banegas via Facebook
For those of you who ventured in any and all cardinal directions, crossed oceans, forests, and deserts to attend BRKfest in Lexington, KY this past July, you know who Str8-Bit is, and you have experienced the power that lies within his mind, thumbs, and Game Boy.
Just before heading to Kentucky, he released My Dithering Heart, an epic six-track release that shows not just ability and technical prowess, but the capacity to get a crowd moving.
I did the Internet-equivalent of sitting down with Str8-Bit to ask him a few questions about him and his music.
Tell us a little about yourself, where do you live? Did you grow up there? Do you wish to stay or move away?
Well, my name is Billy. I’m 20 years old and I currently live in a little town called Christiansburg, VA. I have lived here all my life and right now, I am crashing at my roommate’s place [my parent’s house].
Did you play video games growing up? Which system? What were your favorite games?
Contrary to a lot of chip musicians I read about, yes, I did play a lot of video games growing up. For the first few years growing up we weren’t extremely wealthy so we didn’t have the pleasure of owning a console at the time. The only video game exposure I really had was just playing NES at a friend’s house. But then came that one Christmas that changed everything…
My dad whips out a huge present from the closet. It was the Donkey Kong Country addition SNES. HOLAY CRAP. Even though I would like to tell you I was freakin’ awesome at video games at a young age, I was not [my dad still tells me how my mom was awesome at DKC and I was the “cheerleader”…]. But that didn’t stop me from playing the crap out of that system. Needless to say, Donkey Kong Country: favorite game.
What do you like to do in your free time, apart from tracking in LSDJ?
Good question…I seem to overload myself with different hobbies that I do not really know what to do with myself! To start, I am in a pop-punk band called Times New Roman. We have been together for about 3 years now and we just got back from our very first tour. I really enjoy photography as well and taking promotional band shots. Uhhhh…other than that I have no idea, haha.
Where did you first hear of chipmusic and what were your initial thoughts about the genre?
Geez, this question. I always try and think back and it seems like the story always changes but here we go. I first heard true chiptune music [excluding VST and FL Studio stuff] when I played the Scott Pilgrim arcade game that came out on Xbox Live Arcade. I loved the whole soundtrack to that game. I later came to find out, thanks to my buddy, that the majority of the soundtrack was written by Anamanaguchi. Naturally, I Googled them and came up with all the “OMG muzik made wiff NES?!?!” articles. After more Googling, I stumbled upon Reformat The Planet. This documentary BLEW MY MIND. It showed me that chipmusic was not just seen as “video game music”, but seen more as music that someone could listen to on an everyday basis and not constantly compare it to Mario, Megman, etc.
This is also how I found out about LSDJ. Immediately after I finished watching the documentary, I downloaded LSDJ. It took me quite a while to get used to the layout since I was used to using more modern software, but I still was super pumped every time I hit the start button. I was still using an emulator at this time and was still wondering how they got all this music to come from the Game Boy. Yet again, a trusty Google search lead me to Nonelectronics where I purchased my USB BleepBloop cart [holay crap I love that thing]. A few womps, wubz, and I ‘Aint Your Buddy’s later and I’m still making choons.
What brought you into chiptune music, when did you start composing, and why did you choose a Game Boy, let alone two?
I guess I answered part of this question in the previous question but as for the Game Boy, I just love the minimalist aspect of it. Something so small with only four channels can intrigue people more than anything that comes from any computer software.
Do you play other instruments or have any musical training?
I was in concert, symphonic, and marching band throughout school as a percussionist. I also was a part of the chamber choir during high school. I also dabble with guitar and ukulele.
Who are influences? [Not necessarily the obvious ones... but artists, chip and non-chip alike, that had a profound impact on how or why you write music]?
This is a tough one for me.
Non Chip Related: Relient K (favorite band since 5th grade), Four Year Strong, Into It. Over It., Bayside, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, and quite a few others that have slipped my mind (I’ve been listening to the afore mentioned music a lot lately so that’s what was fresh in my mind, haha).
On the “why”.. why do you write music, as opposed to writing, painting, or acting?
I feel like music was the only thing I was really ever good at. Growing up, all of my friends were very sports oriented or they were very smart and excelled in school: I was neither of those. Music was the only thing that I could do well and have the most fun doing.
Do you indulge in other forms of art or expression? Tell us about those.
Well since I go to school for Graphic Design, I spend a lot of time doodling and designing things on the computer. I am also a professional Facebook stalker…watch your backs…
You recently played BRKfest, how was it playing for everyone in Lexington, KY?
It was incredible/nerve racking. I was extremely nervous since I had never played in front of any other chip musicians before. Everyone was so nice after my set and I really felt welcomed into the scene. It was such a great experience and I would do it 100 more times if I were given the chance.
How do you write your tracks? Do you have a process?
To tell you the truth, I have no idea what my process is. Sometimes I’ll dive right into a melody that’s been stuck in my head and then form the song around that. Other times I will be experimenting with different instruments and come up with some crazy bass line that I like. It really all depends on the scenario.
What is your favorite channel on LSDJ and why?
DAT WAV! The ability to make awesome basses, leads, and even the ability to add samples? Hands down WAV channel.
What lies ahead in the future for Str8-Bit?
I am hoping to play more shows with more chip musicians in the near future. Also, I’m really interested in doing a split album with another artist, and then performing those songs with said artists. That would be raaaad.
What was the last thing you were grounded for?
Not being yo buddy…
Thanks, Str8-Bit.. best of luck to you!