WT: How did you first come into contact with the chiptune scene and what was your first foray into writing in the medium?
James: Lydia and I were originally in an indie band (called 'Fugitive Kind') for a few years, touring around and doing the whole rock scene thing. We had just gotten things going really well and had tracks on the radio, etc. etc., when randomly the band just collapsed! Long story short, the other musicians just didn't want to put in the effort, so all the hard work Lydia and I put in for like years just POOF was gone! We had already had a few line-up changes, and were sick of having to deal with all that just to drag a drummer and bass player around, so we vowed that if we were to continue with music, it would just be the two of us. But it needed to be something that sounded big and rocking enough to handle Lydia's vocals, which was no simple thing. Just on my own time, I was looking into messing around with noisy/circuit bent stuff a la Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, when I stumbled upon a gameboy moded on the Circuit Ben (a notable hardware hacker dude) page, and with it some links to YouTube vids of early LSDJ tracks by guys like Random and Combat Dave (this was probably 2007 or something). I grabbed a cart for fun to play around with, but NEVER thought it would turn into something that Lydia would actually want to perform with.
Lydia: Picking up where James left off, he played me an LSDJ track he was working on, shortly after discovering it online, not sure if I would like it or not. But, I LOVED it and thought I could easily write songs over those types of tracks. At first, we were just doing Bright Primate as a fun project for ourselves, just experimenting. We weren't sure how it would be received by an audience, we just knew we liked the vibe of the project. Chiptune, in general, has a really fun vibe, and that's what we were going for, just so happened we found a bunch of like-minded individuals, both locally and online, that were playing and listening to chiptune. However, a lot of these musicians had never played live, we had a bunch of booking contacts left over from our band days, so along with fellow cohort, Chris Mahoney, aka Active Knowledge, Boston8bit was born. We started booking shows of entirely chiptune artists, from all over the world actually, and it just took off!
WT: Could you tell us a bit more about Boston8bit and some of the people you’ve played with please?
As for people we've played with? Probably most notable chip artists, or at least the ones who play shows and travel! Everyone from Bit Shifter to Sabrepulse, Fighter X, Danimal Cannon Animal Style and Disasterpeace like a million times, JDDj3J and Knife City sleeping on our couch. Dude I could look like a jerk and name drop all day long haha. For one big show we had almost the entire NYC chip scene sleeping on our floor! That's kind of just the way the east coast US chip scene rolls, haha. Between Boston, NYC, Philly and Montreal there is a PHENOMENAL amount of talent so it’s easy to get together.
WT: Which has been your favourite show to play, and why?
L: Well, my favourite show of recent note was at Magfest, 4 day music and gaming festival, that happens each year just outside of DC. This show was earlier this January, what I liked was the whole vibe of Magfest, the stage was set up beautifully, the sound was great, the audience was very open and welcoming. Also, the folks in charge of Magfest, who do all the behind the scenes stuff, like make sure all the performers were well taken care of, they are great at what they do and really organized. It was our first time playing Magfest and I can't wait to go back next year, regardless of whether we have the privilege of playing it again. There was an abundance of good music to be heard and fun gaming activities, one of my favourite shows ever, also it is now on the list of the top 5 best weekends of my life!
J: Mine was probably our show last year with The Protomen and I Fight Dragons. Usually we play to very chip-centric audiences where everybody knows the "durr music with a gameboy" drill, but this was more of a general "epic vocal rock" show. It was a sell-out crowd, and most people were there for The Protomen, who are a sort of dramatic Queen/80s-rock sounding band that performs in elaborate costumes and base all their music around an invented Megaman backstory... it sounds ridiculous (and it is), but the music and the presentation is fantastic and their fans are CRAZY involved. I saw probably 10 Protomen tattoos there which blew my mind. It’s funny that we both mentioned shows that we didn’t organize as our favourites, and that makes perfect sense to me because that shit can be stressful, haha! It’s nice to let someone else deal with all that sometimes and just be "artists".
WT: Lydia, what inspirations do you take for your vocal style?
WT: James, could you tell us a bit about your work writing game soundtracks and which was the most enjoyable to work on please?
WT: You’ve both garnered a lot of mainstream publicity, including appearances on Fox News. What, in your opinions, do you think has led to so much interest in something on paper so niche?
J: We had the luck of being able to sort of ride a number of different waves of generic mainstream media attention. First was the "wtf lol Mario at a rave" fluff piece sort of thing, like the Fox News clip, where it's all about "us crazy kids"; but that was to be expected and we were willing participants. Then with the rise of popular mainstream "nerd culture", there was an interest in 'the puzzling success of it all' and journalists looking to understand the apparently more broad appeal to what, as you say, seems like such a niche interest. Since we were known as "that gameboy band that does the nerd dance shows", we sort of became the de facto local media ambassadors to all things nerd culture and so we were often linked to in articles relating to that "movement" whether or not it was deserved . Most recently has been journalists getting over the novelty aspect and actually taking a genuine interest in the music *as music*, which has been extremely gratifying if you can imagine. It takes a while to break down aesthetic prejudices, but I think we're getting there!
L: Basically, my opinion is similar to James'. At first, I think the media attention was more about the quirky idea of making music with a Gameboy, but now that we've been around for a bit, it's becoming more about the music.
WT: How did you find the experience of writing and releasing ‘Night Animals’?
L: The collection of songs that made it onto Night Animals were written gradually over the past few years, as we truly started to figure out what exactly we wanted our sound to be. So, it was material that we were proud of, that we had been performing for a while, by the time we decided we were ready to record. For me, the recording process was fairly quick, we ended up going to a studio to do most of the vocals, which took a couple of days. With Night Animals, the challenge was to make it one cohesive thing, we hadn't attempted a full album with Bright Primate before, but we had a focus this time, sort of a concept, around the title. Out of the concept came the idea for the cover art, we added more tracks to help with the flow, and the whole vibe just ended up coming together nicely, mostly due to the fact that James was hard at work on production. I'm glad that it has been met with such a positive response!
J: One of my biggest "journeys" in chiptune has been getting the production quality of recorded material to match (and hopefully exceed) the impact of our live sound. I think that's one of the major things holding hardware chiptune back as a genre to be honest. I can't tell you how many chiptune albums I've eagerly looked forward to after AMAZING live experiences, only to be instantly and utterly depressed by the cheesy, tinny, weak, embarrassing album version. I think perhaps I've been forced to deal with this problem more than most due to having to handle Lydia's vocals in the mix, so I can't just throw a track into audacity and be done with it. Anyway, as Lydia said, a lot of these songs we had been performing live for a few years, but they meant a lot to us and I refused to record them until I had the production skill to a place I was comfortable with. In a way, I worked for 5 years to reach a point where I could make this album and everything before it was just practice to get us here. So the fact that it has been so well received means so, so much to me.
WT: What went into creating ‘Pizza Hut Taco Bell’ in terms of influences, and how did you come about working with Force of Will?
J: Well, as you may have noticed, we like doing ridiculous covers... To be honest, I don’t even know how they actually happen and get recorded, but somehow they do. It usually starts as an inside joke we do for one show or another, and then it all just goes too far haha. But it’s not like we're making fun of the music... more like the joke is that it’s us doing the music, but were sincere about it (if that makes any sense), not like "hur hur we're nerdy white people rapping". Oh I don't know, I just really like how they turn out. For some reason I can let myself get really creative with them in a way that is hard to do with our own material. Anyway, Force of Will is a nerdcore rapper from Salem, MA (yes the place with the witches), and we did a show up there with him a while back that we really enjoyed. His flow is really punny and clever and friendly. So having this track laying around that we never thought we'd release, everything just came together and it wound up being a perfect fit. His verse on this cracks me up every time! I can't wait for people to hear it and go "what, again?”
WT: And finally, have you got any projects or live appearances you can give us a sneak peek into?
L: Yes, I'll mention a couple, we are doing an all Star Trek themed performance in Philly in February, and we are writing a bunch of new material for the occasion, which basically involves re-watching the movies and series for inspiration. Another show that I'm looking forward to, in March, is taking place at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. We will be providing the music to go along with a futuristic art exhibit called Artopia. Should be fun, it's not something we have done before!
J: Oh and then of course there is PAX East, which is a huge videogame convention which is also happening in March. With Chris Mahoney and the Boston8Bit crew, we are putting on 3 days of chip shows and after parties with around 15 artists, and it's always an amazing time. Plus we have some TOP SECRET upcoming music releases in the next couple of months that we are extremely excited about! I can't give too much away, but one of the projects fuses both our worlds and involves some quite celebrated videogame soundtrack music :D