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Calvin Hansen: Buff Dude, Pos Vibes (Exclusive Interview)
Calvin Hansen recently released a seven-track Danny Brown remix EP that made me so happy that I felt inclined to approach him with a few questions. Calvin has been releasing music since late 2010, starting under the banner of Starship Amazing, a Synth-Pop duo composed of himself and Derek Alexander. They put together, among others releases, two of my personal favorite pieces of music, Ya’ll Stop Bloggin’ and Ruby Dagger. As someone who advocates for music I love over the Internet, I often do the same in small groups of my friends. I mention this only because I’ve never had more positive reactions than when I play Ruby Dagger. From my small slice of perspective, I’ve found Starship Amazing’s music to be incredibly universal. The love, positivity, and enthusiasm that this music was made with is potent and I’ve never seen anyone reject that.
Calvin also begun a musical side project called Form & Shape, with which he creates, as described on his Tumblr, “ethereal feelings beat tapes.” Rarely can I condone appreciating music in this way, but Calvin creates some of the most gorgeous sonic wallpaper I have ever heard. The tunes found in My Conquest Is The Sea Of Stars, Are You Yet Holding On, and Keep Moving have been my go-to background music to quietly yet powerfully add to any given setting.
Alright, I’m through with my gushing, onto the interview:
Eargrub: People can’t get too much about someone’s immediate personality from fun elecro-jams, so tell the people a little about Calvin Hansen.
Calvin: I am a 27-year-old Leo, born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. I have a day job, because music doesn’t pay the bills yet. My favorite movie is probably They Live. I’ve been playing a lot of Puyo Puyo Tetris lately. I’d like to have a dog. I’d like to not live in Alaska anymore.
Eargrub: Tell me about “so nice to meet you, i hope that you safe”.
Calvin: It’s basically a Danny Brown remix EP, using any vocal resources I could scrounge up. I was trying to take Danny’s style and voice and shift them into my own context, and seeing if it made something interesting. I think it worked pretty well.
Eargrub: Why Danny Brown (besides him being great) ?
Calvin: A big part of it is: he’s really an amazing artist. Danny Brown represents sort of the ideal of what I’m looking for in a rapper, in terms of personality, style, and technical ability. And even though he’s mostly known for big party tracks, he has a lot more depth than that, both as a musician and as a person.
Eargrub: With that, how did you tackle remixing a song wholly about fellatio?
Calvin: It’s interesting, I tried putting the vocal for that song on a couple different beats, and while they fit in terms of the tempo and the groove, the feel of the track didn’t work. But when I chopped up this psychedelic rock sample, with that huge beat on it, and I put the vocals from “I Will” over it, everything came together. It’s less about making something that sounds like a sex song and more about it “feeling” like a sex song.
Eargrub: So you handled the beats of SSA, how was it transitioning into Form & Shape where you’re making music solo?
Calvin: Something really important that Derek brought to Starship Amazing was his ability to really focus in on what we were working with, to look through the mess of demos and half-baked ideas, and find a direction that becomes a song. I figured out quick that without him, it’s really easy for me to just keep churning out small bits of music, the beginnings of songs, and then never fully seeing those ideas through. It’s something I’m still slowly figuring out how to deal with, but I’ll get there.
Eargrub: Do you think we’ll hear anything more from Starship Amazing?
Calvin: I think so, and I really hope so. It’s such a unique experience collaborating with Derek, and it’s one I can’t get anywhere else. We have a lot of fun with it, and I would really feel like I was missing out on something special if we didn’t get to do it again. But I think it’ll happen.
Eargrub: How did you get into making music?
Calvin: I started out playing guitar, mostly a lot of classic rock stuff, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, that kind of thing. Another teenage dad rocker. I started recording my own terrible rock songs in GarageBand, and in high school I got my first MIDI controller to supplement that stuff. While I was in college, Derek and I became friends and we started working on electronic music, mostly as a joke. Everything else kind of came from there.
Eargrub: Okay, just because I’ve always wanted to ask you this, what’s your process behind song naming? You’re songs take the cake for best titles, hands down no contest.
Calvin: Thank you! It really depends, and can vary pretty wildly. Sometimes it’s a word or phrase connected to some part of the song, and sometimes it’s just something I like the sound or the feel of.
Eargrub: Who/what inspires you?
Calvin: Tujiko Noriko is one of my absolute favorite artists. Her songwriting, her voice, and her instrumentation are all amazing. But more than that, the tone and space that her songs inhabit are vast and immersive. Something you can get lost in. Knxwledge is another huge inspiration for me. He carved out his own style in the crowded beat scene, making genius-level stuff that continue to astound with each release. In addition, he’s extremely prolific, sometimes releasing an EP each month.
Besides other musicians, I pull inspiration from a lot of different sources. Movies, video games, anime, manga, wrestlers, stories, or memories. The only thing they have in common is that they hold some meaning for me.
Eargrub: Overall opinions on the Chiptunes genre?
Calvin: I don’t really care about the nostalgia aspect of it. But in terms of seeing what kind of sounds and complexity people can get out of limited hardware, I find that part really interesting. In the end, good music is good music, and that matters more than anything.
Eargrub: Is there a story/meaning behind the name Form & Shape?
Calvin: Not much meaning, unfortunately. The name is just made up of terms I learned in a 2D design class I took back in college.
Eargrub: What are some words you’d describe your music with?
Calvin: Soft, empathetic, warm, chill, spacious.
Eargrub: From what I understand, Form & Shape is more of a side project, but what is the next step you hope to take with it?
Calvin: I’m pushing for it to become a much bigger project. I feel like right now there’s a divide between the chiller electronic stuff I’ve made in the past, and the broken beat stuff I’ve made for my last two releases. I want to try and bring those styles together, and see what comes out. Overall, I want Form & Shape to get weirder and more experimental.
I’m also super happy to have recently joined Gravity Swim Team, a collective / net label made up of a bunch of good friends and talented artists, and I’m really excited about what we’re going to come up with together.
Eargrub: Who are some artists who we are probably sleeping on?
Calvin: Off the top of my head, in no particular order: Everyone on Galaxy Swim Team, everyone on Petal Port, everyone on Maltine, Aeon Fux, Kikuo, Ghoulish, YYU, Arca, .nebula, Woods of Desolation, yotsuba lifestyle, Holly Herndon, Nohtenkigengo, and Fumitake Tamura (Bun).
This interview is quite timely, unfortunately, but hopefully it can help make some sort of difference, no matter how big or small. Calvin was recently diagnosed with sleep apnea, which is an extraordinarily damning sleep disorder. He explained the situation in full with this Tumblr post, but what you really need to know is that it’s very easy to help. Please do consider purchasing some of the beautiful tunes Calvin has created. He’s always been generous with his music, most of the time asking for only however much you can/want to pay. He makes music that I deeply love and I know many people feel the same way. So, again, please do explore his music and consider helping him out by purchasing a release or two.
I’d like to extend an immense thank you to Calvin Hansen for answering my questions. It was an honor to talk to the person who helped make some of the most important music I had growing up. Thank you so much for all that you do.