INTERVIEW: DANIMAL CANNON

I decided to focus on solo artists for my May issue in 2021, so naturally, that gave me the idea for certain followups in May 2022. Danimal Cannon is a world-class human, and an extremely talented, successful chiptune artist. If you don’t know what chiptune is, then you’re no different from me last decade. However, since I’m at least a little more familiar this time around, chiptune is basically electronic music composed almost entirely with the programmable sound generator sound chips found in vintage arcade games, computers, or video game consoles. Danimal will typically say something simpler like, “I make music with Gameboys”, but you get the idea. Adding heavy, distorted guitars, and whatever else Danimal sees fit for his projects, Danimal Cannon has released some of the most original music to ever come out of Buffalo, New York. His last original album from 2016, Lunaria, has earned him millions of views on YouTube and some impressive sales. Danimal has also found himself consistently writing soundtracks for recent video game releases. In fact, his music-related projects are rolling in so consistently, that he was finally able to set down his “9 to 5” a few years ago. Not many of us here in the Buffalo scene can say that music is our career, but Danimal sure can. And with that in mind, let’s see what’s new and exciting in the world of Danimal Cannon!

1. I’ve noticed you’re always keeping busy. You’ve accomplished quite a bit in a short time, and I’m really excited to see that music has officially become your career! Just to get into some of your more recent happenings, how did the RetroMania Wrestling soundtrack gig come about?

Thanks! I actually got referred by my buddy Mega Ran. He’s a rapper I’ve toured with who is known for sampling video game music, but you might have heard him rapping on WWE Smackdown as he made King Xavier Woods’ newest theme “Bow Down”. I originally got hired to do sound effects, every grunt you hear in the game is actually my voice, but as development continued I took over composing duties as well. We spent a few months trying to find the right aesthetic for the game, essentially how retro or modern we wanted to go. We decided on a hybrid approach, implementing FM synths like you would hear on the original arcade YM2151 chip, but with unrestricted polyphony and modern percussion.

2. How long have you been streaming regularly on Twitch and how are your streams being received so far?

I actually hate streaming! When the pandemic hit, I was excited to perform shows online. I had all the audio production, video production, and live streaming skills in my tool belt already. I had fun creating visuals and doing lighting. But when it came down to actually streaming, the tech barely worked, it took me dozens of hours of production to prepare, I had hundreds of bugs to diagnose and work around, all to perform these shows that I was incredibly stressed out for. Here’s an example: I wanted to use a Canon Rebel camera I had as a visual source, it had a nice DSLR lens and sensor, it looked 100x better than any webcam. However, it turns out that DSLRs have software that automatically turn them off after 30 minutes when in video mode. Why? After hours of googling, it’s because DSLRs are taxed differently during import if they’re considered a still camera or a video camera. The law is written so that if you can film for more than 30 minutes at a time, you’re a video camera, so they have software that automatically turns them off in order to pay less duty upon import. So I had to build a moment into my set where I reset my camera and get it re-detected by the streaming software. It was a nightmare, and that was just 1 of 20 other tech nightmares that made it very stressful to try and play music. If I could clone myself and had multiple people working on the production side, it probably would have been enjoyable, but I am DIY to a fault sometimes.

So long story short, I actually stopped streaming in mid 2020 because I hated it so much. However in 2022, I finally said yes to streaming again, just because I had some new songs I wanted to debut, and I had some stage props I built that I wanted to give a live test. I simplified my setup a bit, but I’d still much rather drive 4 hours to play on a real stage than the tech nightmare bedroom I constructed.

3. Is the Schecter in your recent videos your current go-to guitar? I guess this is more of a gear related question. Have you recently invested in any new guitars or any new equipment you’re absolutely in love with?

It is, I love it! It’s a C-7 Multiscale SLS Elite. Being a lefthanded player, I have very limited options for guitars unless I get it custom made. I have another 7 string, an ESP E-II Horizon FR-7. I have small hands so I was attracted to the ESP’s shorter scale length. But when I wanted to play in Drop-A tuning the bottom string was just too flubby, so I decided to go with the Schecter multiscale to get increased tension on the lowest strings. So currently I’m using the ESP for Armcannon stuff, and the Schecter for solo Danimal Cannon stuff. I’m also extremely picky about things like knob placement and pickup selectors, and the Schecter fits my personal tastes a lot better. Also I swear, the amount of specs and features for your dollar are just unmatched if you go with Schecter. The markup if you want something premium on a guitar is just insane with almost every other guitar manufacturer, and not just aesthetic stuff, stuff that makes your guitar play better or stay in tune better!

4. Talk about some different techniques you’ve been implementing lately to challenge yourself on guitar, or even with composition in general?

I’ve been practicing Tosin Abasi-style “selective picking” for the past few months. Ben Eller has a fantastic lesson featuring Tosin on YouTube, if you’re interested I highly recommend it. I’ll never be the fastest player on the planet, no matter how much I grind “Holy Wars” by Megadeth. Selective picking is a great way to play smarter, not harder when it comes to speed. In terms of composition, and perhaps this falls more in the realm of production, but I’ve really been playing with filters, ambient noise, and distortion to accentuate my mixes. I like my music to crescendo and wane like waves crashing on a shoreline, and a well placed filter sweep, heck maybe 2 different filters sweeping, along with a noisy riser, can accentuate the tension before the wave finally crashes, making that moment hit that much harder. There’s only so much you can do with a guitar, a bass, and a drum kit! There’s an entire world of sounds that you can use as set dressing to really make your arrangements stand apart, and I’ve been having a lot of fun exploring that.

5. Your Trek Watch series on YouTube is just incredible. I know how big of a TNG fan you are, but was there a particular moment or incident you can recall that gave you the final nudge to start a TNG review series?

Yes! I was watching Red Letter Media, and they were discussing and ripping on Star Trek: Picard. They were complaining that Picard wasn’t friends with Data, and that his friend was Geordie, so the premise of the season was dumb. I (like an idiot) typed up a huge reply about how wrong they were. In Season 3, the episode ‘The Defector’, it starts off with Data and Picard hanging out performing Shakespeare in the holodeck, and Picard compliments him like he would a son he was proud of. Picard doesn’t spend many personal moments with the crew (except Guinan), which is the reason the final scene of “All Good Things…” is fantastic. Anyways their criticism was wrong and bad, and I realized I had a lot of words to say about TNG. Additionally I already owned a Picard uniform, and had even already created that green screen bridge set for a livestream that I did with Psychostick a few weeks earlier. I intended it to be a simple project, but since I’m a giant production nerd and a perfectionist, it turned out to be a ton more work than anticipated. I still have fun doing it though!

6. Are you able to divulge anything about the next Danimal Cannon album? I can imagine it’s going to be mind-blowing, as you’ve been working diligently on it for as long as you have.

My previous albums have been about exploring the limitations and constraints of retro soundchips, and maximizing their potential. This album the guard rails are off. No limitations, more is more. Each project file for the first 3 tracks I’ve written averages around 130+ tracks and takes almost 10 minutes to open, that’s with my computer having 128GB of overclocked RAM and a Threadripper. It’s a sonic tour de force of massive synths, huge orchestras, and layers and layers of detail. Why have 1 bass sound, when you can blend together 20 synths? Why have 1 drum sound, when I can switch between 20 different kits, in different rooms, and mix them with entire drum ensembles immaculately recorded at Skywalker Sound? Let’s go big.

7. As a man who uses nostalgic video game tones to compose chiptune songs, I’m curious about your current gaming endeavors. What games are you currently playing, if any? Have you jumped on the Elden Ring wagon?

Stream says I’ve put 2000 hours of playtime into Rocket League, you would think I’d be better at the game after that, but here we are. I still play every week, it’s my desert island game and I’ll probably be playing it at the old folks home when I’m 90. Outside of that I absolutely adored the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and I was expecting to hate it. They really knocked it out of the park, and the soundtrack is probably my most listened to music for the past year and a half. The extremely over the top orchestrations weaved into electronic prog metal is a big influence on my upcoming material. I haven’t jumped on Elden Ring, but I’m sure I would love it. I look at new video games like trying a new drug. Am I prepared to invest 50-100 hours into this? Can I balance this with the rest of my life? It’s a big commitment for me.

8. What else is new and exciting in your life apart from music that you’re willing to publish here?

I’m currently editing a music video for a new track I made entirely using Unreal Engine. I started teaching myself Unreal this winter after my game developer friends were freaking out about Epic’s acquisition of Quixel Megascans. The amount of power you have in Unreal is absolutely absurd, 90% of what you see in The Mandalorian is Unreal Engine now. I will forever want to be in control of my own content, so the learning grind never ends.

9. Have you discovered any newer chiptune artists over the past year that you’ve felt inspired by?

There’s an artist named Promtastik that’s putting out some really sick NES music these days.

10. Discuss any upcoming performances you have, and include some simple (printed zine friendly) URLs to promote your online presence.

I’m still a little anxious about live performances in the wake of the pandemic, so I’ve been reluctant to book live gigs and my performances have been pretty rare. I’m currently in talks about booking for several events but nothing concrete as of yet. I have been using this extra time to work on new music! I have 3 new tracks coming out in a game called Soundfall that releases sometime in May, which I am very excited about. Purchase my music at https://danimalcannon.bandcamp.com/ or listen on your favorite streaming service. Follow me on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/danimalcannonmusic or @armcannon on Twitter!

DANIMAL’S NEWEST EP:

*Taken from our May 2022 issue: “One Cold Spring in Buffalo”

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