[Interview] Observer Drift Talks Minneapolis, Bandcamp, the Recording Process, and More
Minneapolis-based bedroom musician Collin Ward, humbly known as Observer Drift, has quickly garnered attention from music fans across the globe with his captivating chillwave sound. Beginning with the release of his debut EP Colored My Heart Red in December of last year, Observer Drift has quickly become defined for an atmospheric soundscape of guitar melodies, mesmerizing reverb-drowned vocals, and hauntingly beautiful and subtle synthesizers. Since then, Observer Drift has released his debut LP Corridors, as well as a brand new standalone track titled "Hiding Place." The attention is growing, and it's well deserved.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Collin about the Observer Drift project, how it started, how it has grown, what has influenced it, and what lies in the future. It was refreshing to hear Collin's humble take on the sudden increase in attention, as well as his perceived advantages of being a bedroom artist. After the jump, you can read my full interview with Collin Ward, and after doing so make sure to follow him on both Twitter and Facebook. As well, both his Colored My Heart Red EP and Corridors LP, along with his new track "Hiding Place," are all available on his Bandcamp page for the price of your choosing.
Adrian: The name Observer Drift, where did it come from and how does it embody the sound and style of your music, as well as you as a musician?
Collin Ward: I decided to start using the title when I was in a psychology class at the college I go to. My teacher briefly mentioned a term from the book called "observer drift," and how it's basically the occurrence of two people starting to view things the same way or starting to agree more and more on a subject and see it from the same perspective. I thought it was a really cool and interesting subject, and the two words (observer and drift) really stuck out to me and seemed to be floating around in my head for the next week after I heard them. When I started this project, very few people even knew that I was doing it. So, when the album came out, a lot of people were very surprised and thrown off. The fact that I was kind of quiet about my music seemed fitting with the name as well, since for most of the time that I was writing the album I simply observed everything around me and took it all in to try to find inspiration for each song. The word 'drift' is perfect too because I daydream a lot throughout the day, especially at school and work (laughs).
A: Having grown up and lived in Minneapolis, how has the city reflected upon your music as well as your views of music in general? And who are your favorite local musicians, whether they’re well known or not?
CW: Minneapolis has an awesome music scene, I think. A lot of support too. I've been getting airplay on three different radio stations in Minneapolis and got featured in the Minneapolis based news journal called City Pages. I have found out about some great local bands from these sources. The Farewell Circuit, Night Moves, Polica and Vicious Vicious, to name a few. I'm really glad I grew up here and a lot of what I've experienced in living here is reflected in my music. Not that my lyrics are about Minneapolis, but just the suburb I grew up in and all the people around me. I think location has a huge role in most music. I grew up with an awesome childhood. I loved every second of it. The fact that a lot of my lyrics are surrounded by childhood feelings and memories kind of makes it obvious that I wish that I could be eight years old again.
A: For sure, location is very important, as is how your music is distributed. Bandcamp, for example, is how you got your start, and avenues such as Bandcamp provide a fantastic opportunity for more and more people from around the world to listen to lesser known artists like yourself. What are your opinions on avenues such as Bandcamp or Soundcloud, and the ability for bedroom artists such as yourself to use these avenues in order to put yourselves and your music out there for anyone to discover?
CW: When my album was done, I just put it on Bandcamp, and that's it. I didn't try any crazy self promotional schemes, Bandcamp literally generated the buzz for me. These platforms are great, because it's a perfect starting point to get your music into people's hands so you can get some feedback. There are SO many bedroom artists and a lot of them don't get the credit they deserve, I'm sure, since there are probably thousands of them on Bandcamp. But, if your music really has a distinct sound and it deserves some credit, it will get it if you just put it out there for people to find. That's my two cents anyways (laughs).
A: In this regard, your music truly does have this distinct sound, and the arrangement of your music is very subtle and nuanced, with multiple layers coming together in such a harmonious manner. Describe your recording processes, and what difficulties or advantages it has.
CW: Initially, my methods were very hit and miss. I've still only been recording for a little over a year, so I'm still not that good at it. I would record parts one at a time and go back and play along with them adding layer by layer. I really didnt like the dry sound of my first recordings so I went back and altered them to make them more unique and catchy. I tried to make something that people could listen to more than once. I tried to write music that I myself would actually listen to (that's probably an obvious statement). But yeah, it was a lot of basic trial and error and dinking around on my guitar after school coming up with catchy hooks and melodies. The most difficult part was recording certain acoustic parts and vocals; that was tricky and I had to get used to hearing my own voice played back. I love writing lyrics, but would never really sing in front of people often. I really tried to work on strengthening my singing voice before I went in and recorded the vocal tracks. I would practice singing old jazz songs like Frank Sinatra and stuff with lots of range to try to get my voice kind of smoothed out. I still get kind of embarrassed when I hear my own voice in my songs on the radio. I don't know (laughts), it's just one of those things that don't really go away.
A: Speaking of your recording process and hearing your singing voice, how does it transfer to a live setting? And do you have any apprehension about performing live?
CW: I sitll have yet to play a live show with my music. I am very nervous about doing it, but at the same time I really want to. I have a pretty good idea of how I'm going to do it, it's just a matter of getting everything in place and practicing and getting the first show out of the way. I'm curious myself to see how well it will go over when it is live. It will be interesting, I guess... to say the least.
A: Shifting gears towards your releases, what is most influential on the music you create? Whether it’s your Colored My Heart EP or your debut LP Corridors, you seem to be influenced heavily by the sublime aspects of dreams and memories. Describe what goes into shaping your music, be it sound-wise or lyrically.
CW: Childhood memories and dreams, those were the key things I wrote about. The very first song on my LP Corridors is about a literal dream that I had while I was in the midst of writing the whole album. I woke up and just started jotting down all that I could remember about it and tried to shape some lyrics out of it. The dream was really hazy and kind of trippy, but there was street light and two people dancing, and that's what the chorus in the song is about: "We run to find the street lights at night. So we can dance. So we can dance to make things right." Songs like "Home Video" and "We Make Believe" are about really fond memories, like imaginary friends and my Grandpa. I really wanted to channel these memories and emotions through my music and make musical version of these memories, to put it one way. I love looking back on my past and reliving memories, so when I started writing music it was almost natural to write about these things.
A: Aside from memories and dreams, the fact that you are a bedroom artist also becomes an apparent influence in your music, with the intimate setting of where it was created being evoked in the lyrics and sounds. What is so important about the space in which you create your music? And what are the advantages, or disadvantages, of being a bedroom artist?
CW: Well, if I stay up til 2am working on a song, I'm two feet away from my bed, so I can just crash right there when I'm done (laughs). Being in my room and around my house was great for writing my music because I was always at ease and was in a familiar place; I didn't feel nervous. No one knew what I was working on and it was nice to know that no one was listening to my songs before they were done, so when they finally were complete, they turned out exactly how I made them and shaped them. [It wasn't] how anyone else wanted it, but it was 100% of my ideas and hard work. A disadvantage is that sometimes it's definitely hard to get motivated when work needs to be done. Sometimes you just want to go outside or play video games because you're at home. I just had to get myself in the right mind frame to stay focused on new music when I had time to work on it. Also, music isn't my whole life. Being a home recording artist is great because the music is always there for me to work on. I can still focus on doing other important things with my life that I value just as equally.
A: Given that Observer Drift is becoming more and more well known and Corridors is seeing a good deal of success, it seems that music is becoming a more prominent aspect of your life. What does the future hold for you and for your music?
CW: I was not expecting any of the attention that my music has gotten. In fact, sometimes I wish I hadn't made my music public. It sounds crazy, but I like living quietly and just going with the flow. The sudden burst of attention with my music really made me nervous. Not that I didn't like it, I just wasn't really ready for it. I'm becoming more used to it now and i'm excited to move on with my next album and work on playing live shows. My plans thus far are to basically write an album that will be remembered... that sounds cheesy, but I'm seriously focusing in on making a new album that will outdo my last. I'm really determined to compose a meaningful and lasting album of songs touching on lots of subjects, but not too serious at the same time. I'm only twenty, so I don't think I should be taking myself too seriously yet!
A: Finally, three quick questions. The first, what is your favorite album of all time? The second, who is your biggest influence? And three, what are you listening to right now that you haven’t been able to put down since you started listening?
CW: Ah, ok i'll try to answer these with the first things that come to mind! Favorite album: ....The soundtrack forE.T. Biggest influence: My brothers. Right now i'm listening to Now, Now's album called Threads. It's super catchy and they're local! I was at their CD release show, they did a really killer job and I've been listening to the album a ton. After the show they signed the vinyl I bought and drew a picture of thier cat and signed the album for my cat, Finn.
A: I'll make sure to check them out!