When ‘Blackout’ first landed in my inbox, I was absolutely taken aback by its sheer atmospheric depth, sonic unpredictability and masterful production quality. There was no doubt that I needed to meet the mind behind the music, Pynk64 – aka Frank Iengo. Frank has been active in the music industry for almost two decades, and in that time his musical dealings have spanned house, chillout, pop, hip hop, R&B, soundtracks and movie scores and, in his own words, ‘anything else that inspires me’. Frank has been involved in numerous projects during his artistic tenure, including Surfers, Aguadulce, Nevrotype, Dynamicode, Relaxingvibe, and of course, Pynk64.
With such an extensive catalogue of works, it was a struggle to avoid going off topic, but we managed to keep the focus on the track at hand – Blackout, which you can listen to here:
MATT - First of all, tell us about yourself: where are you from, how long have you been a musician, what were your early influences?
FRANK - I was born in Naples, Italy, and I lived there until I moved to the United States.
About my relationship with music, I can say that I was taken with music as early as five or six years of age, for the simple fact that I remember very clearly that when I used to listen to music it had a great emotional impact on me.
I’ll never forget that when I heard the organ for the first time (in 70s it was used a lot), I cried and I asked my father to have it but it never happened because at the time it was too expensive. Only at the age of ten, after many, many requests for the organ, I changed direction and got a cheap classic guitar, and finally I started to learn my main instrument.
My major musical influences started when I began to listen to soundtracks by very popular Italian film composers such as Ennio Morricone and Nino Rota, amongst others. Around thirteen/fourteen years of age I started to play the piano and I fell in love with jazz music, listening to all the great musicians such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Evans, George Benson, and Pat Metheny.
After a few years, I discovered the disco sound of great groups such as Earth Wind & Fire, KC & Sunshine Band, Kool & Gang, and Chic. I was later enthralled by hip hop, chillout, dance (with all the different categories - underground, house, trance, techno, minimal), trap, and pop music.
MATT - It’s refreshing to see someone so interested in wildly different genres, and who has a genuine love good music irrespective of what category if falls under. Regardless of whether they share this level of appreciation, most artists tend to stick to a particular sound, and so I'm interested to hear why you chose to buck the trend and instead work in multiple genres, as this is something I do myself with my own work. What made you decide to split this work across different projects?
FRANK - I didn’t choose to do different genres of music. It wasn’t a conscious decision - it simply happened, as a consequence of my musical experiences leading me to explore different kinds of music.
MATT - Do you think it's difficult for an artist to work in multiple genres without alienating their audience, and do you think that streaming will change that as people opt for more behaviour-based listening over straight genre boundaries?
FRANK - This is a very interesting question. My thoughts are that it could be a significant problem for most of the people that are used to associating an artist to a particular genre of music. So, my answer is yes, it could be alienating for some people but I really hope that the new way to listen to music through streaming (whether it be music videos or simply music) will change this mentality.
Music is music!
Music should be something that makes you feel good or even bad, if that music reminds you of something unpleasant. When I say something unpleasant it could be anything; a love relationship gone wrong, loss of a loved one, etc.
MATT - Moving on to the question of the music industry, the way artists 'make it' in 2018 is very different from the way it was as early as ten years ago. How do you think this has improved an artist's chances of gaining exposure and a real fanbase, and what's your view on the demise of the 'international superstar'?
By this, I mean as audiences become more accessible to independent artists, are we going to see more stratified fanbases and more artists having less overall fame, but more dedicated followings?
FRANK - I think that today there are infinite possibilities to have great exposure but of course, it is not simple at all. It seems that you can enjoy success doing some posts on Facebook, Twitter and all the social networks we have access to but you have to learn how to do it, and you must work constantly every day.
About the demise of the 'international superstar, I think it is not necessarily a demise, more a decline that has allowed for the huge range of music and artists we have never had access to until now.
MATT - You mentioned social media - do you think that the growing availability of music distribution and marketing (Facebook ads, Google AdWords etc) is saturating the market with any old character who fancies a go, or is it a case that because of this ubiquity, artists have to be even more talented and unique than ever before in order to truly compete?
FRANK - I think that the market is definitely saturated with campaigns of all types and unfortunately often these are fake campaigns. Basically, it is a big chaos.
Anyone who has a blog or some social network with a relatively large number of followers suddenly becomes a promoter asking for money from the already frustrated and harassed new artists trying to emerge. But one thing is certain…
If you do not have something to say artistically, you can do all the campaigns you want, but you will not go anywhere.
Of course, compared to before, interacting with large numbers of people, you can cater to a niche which is certainly a better result than you could have done before.
MATT - I want to talk a bit about your musical direction. Dance music and psychedelic rock aren't genres you typically find together. What was your motivation behind 'Blackout', and what made you choose to marry these rather disparate styles? Do you have plans to explore more of these types of fusion, and if so, what can we expect from you in the future?
FRANK - I chose to combine these two genres because I think (and it is not just me that thinks this), that rock music and dance music are the two main genres that are capable of moving millions of people.
Look at the impact of rock music festivals like ‘Woodstock’ and ‘Isle of Wight Music Festival’ in the 1970s with huge turnouts. Today rock is still just as relevant, with great musical events like ‘Rock in Rio’, ‘Exit’, and ‘Roskilde.’
MATT - What's your creative process like? What's a typical studio session like for you - do you start with your beats and move onto melodies, or are you in there with your guitar above all else, and the rest follows later?
FRANK - It is not always the same, it depends on a lot of factors. If it is a dance song, I might start with the beat, the groove, the bass, and then add on from there. If it is a soundtrack, I might start with a violin and then expand on the arrangement. The list of variations can go on, especially if you're collaborating with other artists.
MATT - Do you get hit with a song idea whilst you're gardening or driving, or is it more a case of just getting in the studio and making a mess until something amazing happens?
FRANK - Both. But I am also often inspired by things I listen to that move me.
MATT - How long does it take you to take a track from an idea to a finished product?
FRANK - This depends on the complexity of the song and its needs - how many tracks a song is made of, the quality of the tracks (especially if you are working for third parties), etc. If the tracks of the song are few, of excellent quality and there are voices sung well with their emotional strength, with few effects and automation, then it will surely be a simpler and faster job.
I can have the finished product in three days, or a week, a month or more.
MATT - Do you ever struggle with writer's block, or that horrible feeling of perfectionism we get where no matter what we do, nothing sounds 'right'? What do you do to recalibrate yourself in these situations? What would your advice to other creatives be when they're facing a similar conundrum?
FRANK - Oh Matt, this a terrible question because it happens to me very often! It happens often because when I work I always want to do better, better and better.
If it's my song (it's not a job for third parties), I just stop working on it and I do something else. Then I re-open it again after some time has passed and I try again.
MATT - The holy grail for any independent artist these days seems to be the coveted playlist placement. What do you think it is about playlists that makes them so different from more traditional forms of mass exposure, and what role do you think the playlist curator plays in introducing emerging artists to the fanbases they desire?
FRANK - I think that playlists are becoming more and more important for independent artists because they have potential to provide considerable limelight and according to their real popularity, gives the opportunity to be more visible and have economic gains. This is a motivation.
Another important motivation for the artists, is that they can check out almost in real time through their accounts what the state of their audience is, helping them to make decisions on what they need to do, which song needs to be pushed, and which doesn't do well at all.
About the curators, I think that they are very important and have a responsibility that when they ask for money to be honest and realistic about what is to be expected.
You cannot ask $200 for including a song in your playlist for a month if potentially the artist gets an overall of $50 or $100 back. I know that it is not simple to calculate the potential gain, but you have to be honest and try to do your best in order to have a fair exchange.
MATT - Is there a worry that in a lot of cases, the freedom of diversity that we've lauded as the byproduct of the streaming age will be lost as the curators with the real power influence the way people write their music in order to make it 'playlist friendly'?
FRANK - I think that somehow people, including myself a few years ago, can be heavily influenced by the musical market and allow it to influence changes in their musical direction, losing originality in compositions and the pleasure of doing what they really feel in their heart.
Today most of the people don’t create music anymore using their heart, they want to just earn money. It’s sad but true.
MATT - So what should an artist who doesn't fit the mold do to combat this situation?
FRANK - I think that there are three ways to do music today - it’s all about the personal choice.
An artist can choose to be original (without any commercial contamination).
The second way (and this is what I usually do), is try to have a mediation.
When I produce music, especially when it's something current such as pop music, I only take elements like powerful drums, bass sounds of a certain kind and mix them with what is part of my musical baggage and my personal point of view. Basically, I refuse to copy the sounds that are already out there.
The third way, of course, is to make copies of copies of things that have already been done. As for this third way, I do not say it's wrong but I personally don’t like doing that.
MATT - Finally, tell me a unique fact about your track 'Blackout'. It could be an interesting anecdote from the studio, a creative accident that radically altered the course of the track for the better (or for worse), or something meaningful about the story behind it.
FRANK - The particular thing I can say about the creation of Blackout, is that the production was borne of a Skype video call between me in New York, Lino Di Meglio in Naples, and Oscar Junior in Mallorca. And the guitar that I used that day had only three strings.
Yes, I should have put new strings on, but to not ruin the atmosphere that was being created, I recorded everything on the spot despite the absence of the remaining three strings.