Tiny Wight has been composing electronic dance music for over 20 years with his dark electro-shock band The Deadites. Best known for their outrageous live performances and their annual “Halloween Extravaganza”, The Deadites have also received considerable critical acclaim for their recently released EP “The Big, Scary Monster Hunts at Midnight”.
In late 2012, Tiny eschewed the ease and flexibility of composing with VST instruments for the real-life, hands-on satisfaction of creating music with vintage and modern analog synthesizers and electric pianos. Since then, his collection has grown to include some of the coolest synths from the 70′s until today.
I♥SYNTHS: What got you into electronic music?
Tiny Wight: I’ve been an unapologetic nerd for a long time; I was programming computers and running a BBS (Bulletin Board System – think of it as the internet in slow motion with only one person on at a time) when I was 10 years old. My close friend Brian Kokernak exposed me to some great electronic stuff around that same time: Depeche Mode, The Shamen, Erasure, Yaz, Kraftwerk, Pet Shop Boys. Electronic gateway drugs that lead to harder stuff like NIN, Nitzer Ebb, Ministry, and their ilk The list just went on and on and I loved all of it. When the time came to pick a “band” instrument, it was a no-brainer: SYNTHESIZER! Unfortunately, the tiny Casio that my parents bought me wasn’t exactly equipped to lay down the sorts of tracks that I liked at the time. In 1989 I purchased my first real workstation keyboard, an Ensoniq SQ-1, and things started to get interesting.
I♥SYNTHS: When did you start collecting synthesizers and what was your first?
Tiny Wight: I got my first synth – a little Casio MT-100 – back around 1985 when I was 11 (for “band”). I graduated to the equally terrible Yamaha PSR-47 when I was 13 or so. At 16 I picked up an Ensoniq SQ-1 and things started to get interesting. All of the early Deadites songs were made on this keyboard and an Alesis DM-5 module slaved to the onboard sequencer. I wrote with this combo plus an E-mu Orbit for about a decade, from 1990-2000.
Somewhere in the mid-1990′s, I started using a computer pretty extensively for songwriting, but mostly for sequencing and mixing. I picked up Propellerheads Reason v1 shortly after it came out towards the end of 2000 and used versions of that more or less exclusively until 2012, when I said, “F#*$& this sh#*&. This isn’t fun at all anymore”, and started my synth collection with a limited edition Moog Little Phatty Toxic Edition. Once I got my hands on it, my fate was sealed, and my wallet literally exploded, permanently injuring my right buttock.
I♥SYNTHS: What type of music do you listen to? Any artists out there that inspire you?
Tiny Wight: Nearest and dearest to me is the 70′s and 80′s electronic stuff like Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, Howard Jones, YMO, and most of the 80′s synthpop “one-hit-wonders”, along with more ambient stuff like Jean Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream. I’m also very inspired by the soundtrack music of Ennio Morricone, John Carpenter, Goblin, and Wendy Carlos. Nowadays I find most of the stuff that I like best by kicking off a Pandora station like Boards of Canada, Kraftwerk, Erlend Oye, The Knife, or Kavinsky. We live in such a great and awful time for electronic music; there are so many fantastic bands out there, but they’re being obscured by some real garbage.
I♥SYNTHS: Is there a “Tiny Wight” sound? Do you have a favorite piece of gear?
Tiny Wight: Danceable beats, catchy solos, arpeggiated synth, lush pads is what usually comes out, regardless of what I set out to do. I can’t not try to write hooks when I’m putting together a song; it’s part of my musical DNA. I’m always writing songs for people with the intention of having people dance to them, but not in any particular style; I’m all over the place with tonality, sound, tempo, etc. Somehow though, no matter how hard I try to make something that’s totally different, it ends up being a Tiny Wight song. I guess that’s a good thing in that it speaks to the idea of me having found a unique style.
As for my favorite -most heavily used, let’s say- piece of gear, it’s really hard to choose; it really depends on the mood I’m in that day. Sometimes I’m in the mood for that 70′s vibe and the Roland Paraphonic 505 or Wurlitzer 200 comes out to play. Sometimes I’m more in the mood for arpeggiated breakdance sort of flavor and I gravitate to the DSI Prophet 08 or something like the Jupiter 6.
Tiny Wight: I only just recently picked up the Moog Voyager XL, but I have a feeling that’s going to make its way on just about every track I make from here on out. It’s a lovely, beastly, wonderful synth.
I♥SYNTHS: Are you strictly hardware now? Do you use VSTs and how do you go about recording?
Tiny Wight: I’m strictly using hardware for my sounds at this point. I’m recording to Logic and mostly just doing EQ, compression, and panning. I like the Native Instruments Guitar Rig plugin quite a bit, so I’ll occasionally throw something like that on a track. There will probably come a day when I drift back to using effects plugins for post production work, but it has been so invigorating to get my hands on hardware again that I’m really in no big rush to bother with the computer. Aside from acting as a master MIDI clock while I jam out, the computer is doing very little nowadays. I’m having an absolute blast making electronic music again.
My advice to anyone thinking about introducing hardware to their setup is to start cheap <$500 with something vintage that has knobs. Yamaha CS-5 maybe? You'll know very quickly if it's for you. Like, as soon as your fingers touch the keys quickly
I♥SYNTHS: Your room is full of inspiration. Can you tell us about your concept for the space?
Tiny Wight: In 2012, when I decided to step away from computer-based songwriting, I sort of put on the brakes and took a close look at what I was getting out of music. Specifically, I asked myself whether I was truly inspired by what was around me and by the equipment I was using to make music. I sort of – wasn’t. So I stripped down everything that had become comfortable and boring for me and rebuilt my studio and writing process from the ground up. I began surrounding myself not only with musical gear that I felt inspired by, but also with posters and art that spoke to me in a musical sort of way.
Recently, I commissioned my artist buddy Derek Ring to create a piece for the studio that would bring some futuristic vibes to the space. We brainstormed for a bit and then he hit the ground running, finally giving me a piece that brought together many of the movies and stories that I enjoy, from Blade Runner to Lone Wolf and Cub. I printed it up 2′ x 5′ on canvas, and it now serves as a sort of focal point in the studio.
Early on, I just sort of boxed myself in with a couple keyboard stands and started playing. As the collection grew, I started to realize that that setup wasn’t going to work for long. I hit my local Home Depot, grabbed some building materials and built a large wall in the studio that serves both to define the workspace and to hide an absolute shit-ton of cables behind. Two equipment racks sit side-by-side in the wall for my rack-mounted gear, including two line mixers which are starting to feel a bit intimidated by the growing number of synths in the room. All of my patching is done behind that wall, where cabling and inputs/outputs are completely exposed, yet entirely out-of-sight.
Wanting to further immerse myself in a futuristic music-making microcosm, I added programmable colored lights to the space that allow me to create whatever mood best suits the track I’m working on. To be honest, in spite of the flexibility, I rarely stray from Tron cyans and blues. The original movie, along with the Wendy Carlos soundtrack, serves as a big inspiration for me in general, and for what I hope will be coming soon from me in particular.
I♥SYNTHS: Are your young ones enjoying the pretty lights and knobs?
Tiny Wight: I want to make the studio and synthesizers available to them as much as I can, and I’ve even added programmable lights to the space to have on while they’re dancing. My youngest just loves to tweak synths, and the Moog Liberation, which sits on a guitar stand, is never safe from his little fingers. Some of the best, weirdest stuff I’ve heard out of that synth came from him tweaking it!
We have a great time in the studio. I’ll usually play solos on the Liberation while the two of them are dancing or playing around with the other synths. It is my fervent hope that I can pass along everything I know about making music to them and let them springboard into music making at an early age. If they’re interested. Which they will be, dammit.
I♥SYNTHS:As well as your vintage collection, you’ve recently acquired some newer pieces. Can you tell us your thoughts on them?
Tiny Wight: As much as the newer analog synths look like vintage equivalents on paper, there really are some fundamental differences in the sound of the older and newer stuff. To be honest, I don’t feel like many of the newer flagship pieces have the mojo that even some of the cheapest vintage stuff has. There’s just something fundamentally different – better, I guess- about the way the vintage pieces like the Yamaha CS50 or the Roland Jupiter 6 sound to my ears. That said, I’ll often get something I really love out of the DSI Prophet 08 or the Voyager XL and write a whole track around it.
The old and new synths work so nicely together for the type of music I like to write. That’s a big part of what keeps me bringing more and more of them into the studio; they’ve all got different “voices”, and they usually manage to come together to create something that’s better than the sum of its parts. What the modern synths lack in raw awesomesauce, they more than make up for in power and convenience. It’s a tradeoff that works out very nicely in a well-balanced studio.
I♥SYNTHS: What synthesizer is your most rare or special to you?
Tiny Wight: The Moog Liberation is so ridiculous and so awesome that I’ve just got to pick that one. The sound and feel of it, along with the amazing modulation options for live play, are so satisfying. For obvious reasons, it’s something that could never, ever be emulated by a computer. Also, I don’t know if all of the Liberations are like this, but mine’s got this weird, sweet smell to it that augments the enjoyment of playing a real, lovely musical instrument.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you have your eye on any other synths right now?
Tiny Wight: I like to keep everything plugged in and ready to play, but at this point I’m seriously running out of physical space and mixer channels! That said, I’ll probably find a way to add a Jupiter 8, an Oberheim OB8, and a Roland TR-808 at some point. There are so many synths that I’m interested in, but I’m trying to keep cool and just add stuff that’s really going to help the music. If I had unlimited space, budget, and time I’d add some of the littler guys like an Akai AX60/80, Kawai SX-240, Roland SH-1, etc. The list goes on and on, and the cost goes up, up, up! There are so many incredible synths out there. I’m trying to keep some focus in the studio and collect only stuff that I’ll really use and love.
I♥SYNTHS: Tell us a little about your group “The Deadites”.
Tiny Wight: The Deadites as a band was created in 1991 by my long-time friend Dynamo Marz and me out of a need to generate money to buy the equipment we needed to continue hunting and killing monsters, which we had been doing for a number of years already. We flourished through the 90s and early 2000s, both as a band and a monster hunting organization, then fell on hard times when the government stopped funding independent monster hunters. All our funding has come from private sources for the past decade or so.
There will always be a need for someone to kill zombies, vampires, werewolves, and all those other bad guys, but we’ve been living hand-to-mouth for a long time now. Much as they may want to, folks can’t generally pay us what the government offered back in the day; a few hundred dollars on a contract is generally the best we can hope for, regardless of what is called for. Even with a dozen or so members of The Deadites Secret Twilight Society working steadily on a monthly basis, we’re barely making what we need to keep our headquarters open.
As far as music is concerned, The Deadites have won multiple awards for our live performances over the years. We have recorded multiple full-length albums over the years, but one villain or another always stepped in to destroy the recorded masters. It has been frustrating to say the least. In 2012 we quickly and covertly recorded and released our EP entitled “The Big, Scary Monster Hunts at Midnight”. It has been well-received, and even appeared in Fearnet.com’s “Best of 2012: The Year’s Top 10 Horror-Friendly Albums”. A full-length release is planned for 2014, but please don’t spread it around; the baddies might find out and try to put a stop to it.
I♥SYNTHS: You are also part of the “Trick or Trick” podcast. Tell us a little about that.
Tiny Wight: The Trick or Treat Radio Podcast was started by The Deadites’ producer of media Johnny Wolfenstein in August of 2012 as a promotional vehicle for The Deadites as a musical entity. It has since grown to become its own project altogether. The show has been referred to by listeners as “the Drive Time Show from Hell” — part Howard Stern, part Nerdist, part improvisational radio drama. We’re informative with our films reviews, but we also throw in plenty of humor. We’ve had guests from all backgrounds on our show including NY Times Best Selling Authors, Filmmakers, Musicians, Comic Book Writers/Artists, Game Designers and Professional Wrestlers.
We discuss the things that we enjoy – Films, especially Horror, Comic Books, Music, Video Games, Books, and other Pop Culture topics. Our show broadcasts live every Wednesday evening starting at 8:30pm, and is available for download on Friday mornings. The show can be downloaded from iTunes, Stitcher Radio and from our site http://trickortreatradio.com. In the short history of the show, we have been featured on “New and Noteworthy” and “What’s Hot” on the iTunes podcasts page. We also have a Facebook Group. So yeah, good on us! Come check it out!
I♥SYNTHS: When you put on the mask, do you feel like you have super powers?
Tiny Wight: I wouldn’t say superpowers, no, but I can wade through a crowd of zombies or take out a master vampire like a boss, and it looks a lot cooler on video in slow-motion when the mask is on.
The mask is for anonymity and intimidation. I’m quite well-known in the monster hunting community, and by most villains who mess with the dark arts. Seeing the bad guys’ faces drop when I walk into a room is one of my favorite parts of my job as a monster hunter. The mask just hides the smile.
Oh, and it’s a fun part of the stage show, too. Something iconic to anchor the band, I suppose.
I♥SYNTHS: How do you handle your live rig? What gear do you take out?
Tiny Wight: For the sake of my fellow musicians on stage, I try to keep it simple. I usually bring one or two synths and the Moog Liberation, along with a laptop for backing tracks. There are four of us that play live over the tracks and four vocalists. It takes every ounce of willpower that I have to leave most of the synths back in the studio. Something like the CS50 may make its way out to future shows, in spite of its size and weight. It is ridiculously expressive and ridiculously fun to play. The Wurlitzer 200 might also travel well… Shit, don’t get me started!
I♥SYNTHS: Care to share some new music from your solo efforts and “The Deadites”?
Tiny Wight: Sure! Here are my latest tracks on soundcloud.
I♥SYNTHS: Can you tell us a little about Custom Synth? When did you get started and what made you get into the business?
Custom Synth: A while back, I got involved in music because one of my brothers, Toby Toman, played drums in various British bands (The Nosebleeds, Ludus, The Durutti Column, Blue Orchids, and Primal Scream) so I grew up around rehearsal rooms and studios. I started Custom Synth several years ago, mainly restoring vintage equipment, rack gear, rusty keyboards and more. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to customize hi-tech equipment? Fender and other guitar companies have custom shops so, that kind of started me off. I now notice Roland, Korg and other companies have started to do it. Then, I was commissioned to customize a Nord in black, so it could be used in an orchestra pit and not stand out. Red Nords are cool but having a black option would be handy for something like this.
I♥SYNTHS: If someone wanted a custom synth, what’s the best way to get started?
I♥SYNTHS: Can you explain a little about your process on customizing?
Custom Synth: Once the project is started and the colors/graphics are worked out, the equipment is stripped down. Then, the parts are prepared, sanded, resprayed and screen printed. I work with friend who has a screen printing company (they used to do all of the Joe Meek gear).
I♥SYNTHS: Do you get any other instrument requests besides synthesizers?
Custom Synth: I do mostly hi-tech instruments and rack gear. I did work with Native Instruments for a while, customizing the Maschine for the artist series and a few one-offs. I also worked with Novation with the dicers and launchpads in chrome/gold and more. Really, anything that can be sprayed and printed can be customized or restored.
I♥SYNTHS: You’ve done some custom synths for celebrities and famous musicians. What was your most unique or original project?
Custom Synth: One of the most unique projects was for Tom Rowlands (The Chemical Brothers studio). I built a midi controller keyboard to sit in the bumper rail of a large SSL mixing desk. It has a detachable cover to match the rest of the desk and two modular cabinets. One was for the Serge modular system in a two piece metal arch and the other was a MOTM system to match the Roland 700 system.
I♥SYNTHS: Any other unique stories or projects?
Custom Synth: The restoration work I do for RL Music is rewarding and the finished instruments always look and function beautifully. You can see more at http://www.rlmusic.co.uk/
Custom Synth: Also, the Kaiser Chiefs have a white keyboard set up for their world tours including Peanut’s custom Nova-modded 808-style SH101.
Custom Synth: Howard Jones has a great looking sci-fi Deco chrome keyboard setup.
Custom Synth: Pete Watson, a session musician (Hurts, Lily Allen, Live), uses mainly Nords in black with reverse keys.
Custom Synth: Keane uses a custom Roland SH-201 in yellow.
Custom Synth: Rachel Furner uses a Roland RD-700 GX piano with blue and white stripes.
Custom Synth: Chromeo has a few all-chrome pieces like the MS20, Nord Modular, Nord Stage, a Roland SH-101, Akai MPC, Moog Voyager and Simmons Drum pads.
Custom Synth: Mike Skinner (The Streets) urban camoflage tr 909, a custom white Logan string machine, a white ARP Axxe and pink Fender amp.
Custom Synth: Gary Go has a custom black Nord stage and microKORG.
Custom Synth: Major Tweaks Studio (Roger Lyons) is the north’s leading analogue synth recording studio, custom SH-101s, MS20s, a CS and modular racks. Other customers include: Goldfish , Robbie Bronnimann , Tom (Editors), Shadow Child, Spoony, Funkagenda to name a couple.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you have a favorite synthesizer to work on?
Custom Synth: Anything is great to work on. Seeing something in a sorry state or rusty and beat up and then refreshing them and making them usable again is worth it.
I♥SYNTHS: What’s been your most challenging project?
Custom Synth: I recently had a Jupiter-8 that had been in its case in damp storage. The lining of the case had turned to sludge, eaten the paint off and bubbled the paintwork. That took a lot of refinishing and it came out rather well.
Custom Synth: Similar with a TR-909, that had sat in a puddle for a year. Someone had a go at painting it which kind of reacted and the finish became bubbly. I gave that an 808-color makeover.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you have a large personal collection of custom synths?
Custom Synth: I used to but not now. I just use a Roland Fantom G6, a Eurorack modular (which is growing) and a laptop with Reason on it, for my music
I♥SYNTHS: Have you ever fallen in love with a project and wanted to keep it for yourself?
Custom Synth: Yes, I love everything I do, but you have to let the kids leave home. They can always come back.
I♥SYNTHS: What’s next for Custom Synth? Do you have any future projects or new ideas you’re looking to do this year?
Custom Synth: I have been making a few t-shirt designs, which I sell on eBay. I try and keep the designs unique. They change all the time and helps pay for the projects.You can check them out here on http://www.ebay.com/usr/customsynth
Custom Synth: I’m still finishing a duo SH-09 which is a work-in-progress but, it’s getting there. I am also going to make a few Custom Synth one-offs this year and continue to experiment with different colors and finishes. I did have a plan to make some speakers for modular systems but, I’ve noticed people have started to do that. Perhaps customizing Eurorack modulars would be great! Maybe a rainbow modular? Different colors used for functions might be nice. I’m also working out a way to mount effects pedals into Eurorack formats too.
I♥SYNTHS: Thanks again for the interview! I hope to one day own one of your amazing pieces of equipment.
I♥SYNTHS: What is Soft Lighting? Tell us about the name, the mood and what got you into electronic music.
Soft Lighting: This is my solo music project. I picked the name at a time when I was really getting into photography and learning about lighting. I thought it fit the kind of chill sultry vibe of the music. I first started making electronic music when I was in high school and Radiohead’s “Kid” A came out. That was around the same time music editing software was becoming easily available.
I♥SYNTHS: How do you go about recording?
Soft Lighting: All different processes. Sometimes I come up with the whole song on guitar before I start recording anything. Sometimes I just start by recording one little piece and then slowly adding onto it. Switching up the process keeps it interesting. The songs go through tons of iterations though. I usually have 20 different versions of a song recorded – some in different keys or totally different arrangements or with alternate lyrics etc.
I♥SYNTHS: “Once everything is recorded in, what type of processing do you do on the computer for the “Soft Light” sound?”
Soft Lighting: I use Waves SSL plugins on everything, Melodyne for vocals, Logic’s reverb and tape delay, Ultrabeat and Battery for drum sampling. I don’t really ever use soft synths.
I♥SYNTHS: Did you play guitar before getting into synthesizers?
Soft Lighting: Yup, I started playing guitar when I was 9 or 10. I wanted to be Nirvana and I had an imaginary band that I called “Rex And The Big Gun” – pretty sarcastic for an elementary kid, haha.
I♥SYNTHS: What’s your go-to piece of gear that defines the Soft Lighting sound?
Soft Lighting: I usually choose a different set of tools for each album because I think it helps give that body of work a uniqueness. The first album, “Slow Motion Silhouettes” was all done on the Juno 60 and the drums where a lot of old Casios so it has a real washed out lo fi vibe. “Portraits” was made with the DX7, Juno 106 and Roland drum machines so it has a cleaner more digital sound. Now I’m working a lot with my Virus TI which is taking the sound out of the realm of vintage 80s and taking it to a more contemporary place.
I♥SYNTHS: You love your cats. Are they a big inspiration to your music? What are their names and what synths do they like the most?
Soft Lighting: I actually only have one cat and his name is Ziggy. My wife and I foster litters of kittens for our local shelter so we always have a bunch of new kittens around. They like ALL the synths and ALL the gear – especially hiding in the back of amplifiers.
I♥SYNTHS: As you’re building your synth collection, are you looking for anything specific to add to your arsenal?
Soft Lighting: I’d really like to pick up a DSI Tempest. I’m mainly on the look out for new really innovative pieces of gear – things that can produce sounds we haven’t hear before.
I♥SYNTHS: You’ve recently released some vinyl. Do you think people are starting to gravitate towards using older gear, recording processes and listening experiences?
Soft Lighting: I think a lot of people are reexamining the relationship between convenience and fun. There is this whole new paradigm surrounding music – the way we make it, find it, listen to it etc. Everything is faster and easier. For a lot of people something is getting lost so they are looking for ways to force themselves to slow down and appreciate the experience. Vinyl makes you sit down and listen to a whole album. Vintage synths makes you physically route pieces of hardware and twist knobs in real time. Its just more fun.
I♥SYNTHS: What’s new for Soft Lighting? Are you doing any collaborations or working on a new solo album? Care to share something new with us?
Soft Lighting: I just finished a couple new singles and collaborating on a new Soft Lighting EP with A$AP Mob producer, P on the Boards. He’s a genius and it’s been amazing to work with him and learn from him. I’m so excited for everyone to hear it. No release date yet to announce but you will be hearing from us very soon.