Draze Force: Analog Meets 8-Bit

Graham Sedam, blog, thoughts, life, interests, Draze Force, III, Digital Ocean, Nick Morris, Synthwave, electronic music

For what now seems like a long time ago, I had the opportunity to receive a digital copy of Draze Force’s new EP, III, along with its accompanying cover art. Nick Morris, Draze Force's sole mastermind, graciously sent it to me back in May before its June 8th release. I've been mulling over a write-up on the blog ever since, taking stabs at a post along the way. It hasn't been until recently that I was able to start tightening things up to publish this post. As I wrote, Nick humored me by answering some questions.

I could make the attempt of breaking down each song descriptively and relaying that to you readers here, but this is not that type of post. I feel that music is a far too personal experience; it’s an art to be heard, not read. What I do here is merely a supplement to what YOUR ears tell YOU.

If I had to give you a simple description, how would I describe the music of Draze Force? The first word that pops into my mind is electronic. Realizing that description is an extremely vague one in a genre filled with a plethora of niches, I thought it best to get an answer from III’s creator and inquire as to what Nick considers his style of music.

"I'm not entirely sure what my genre is called. I've heard it called synthwave, retrowave, and outrun. I stick with synthwave, mainly because I don't know what else to call it, but it certainly has a rock influence in the drums. That's also a part of why I made III—I got tired of the EDM-bro fist-pumping scene. I missed rock music and love the sounds of 80's synths.”

Nick continued by adding that some similar artists to Draze Force are Daniel Deluxe, Tonebox, Mitch Murder, Arcade High, Dance with the Dead, VHS Dreams, and Sub Morphine.

Graham Sedam, blog, thoughts, life, interests, Draze Force, III, Digital Ocean, Nick Morris, Synthwave, electronic music

For the record, the pronunciation is like adding the letter “d” to the word “raise.” I had never known until recently when I asked Nick. I always gave it a more exotic pronunciation, saying drahhh-zay. He set me straight and told me that he actually yells it in the first track, III. I hadn't remembered that part. I do listen critically, but when I AM able to listen to music, I'm generally knocking out another task as well, such as writing. I suppose it got missed within that, regardless of my incessant spins. Though, in my defense, alongside him yelling 'Draze Force' is a deep frequency, not-exactly-human voice saying the same thing. It's clear when you know. I'm sure that there are others who picked it up right away.

Being someone who has a tendency to come up with a lot of names for a variety of projects, songs, and whatnot, I’m always curious as to a person’s inspiration or practical thinking when deciding upon giving something a title. I then inquired where the name Draze Force originated.

“I think the story of how I came to Draze Force is kind of stupid. When I was a kid, I was really into dragons and music. I thought it would be awesome to start a band with my best friends called Dragon Force. There were two problems with that: 1. Nobody wanted to be in a band with me. 2. There already was a band named Dragon Force. So, I made up a word similar to Dragon and came up with Draze, and the name Draze Force stuck ever since.”

Continuing on with my name-creation investigation, I asked Nick why he named the EP III (pronounced 3), since it was only the second release of his that I knew of. He told me that he named it III because it had been three years since his previous release, Digital Ocean. He had intended to release the EP a year earlier, but life’s circumstances got in the way. I jokingly asked Nick if he would have named it II had he released it a year prior.

III could have possibly been called II if it came out a year earlier. It might have been called something different. There was an EP in line ahead of III I was calling Waveform Hearts. I was never satisfied with it, so now it sits on my hard drive. I think I'm at a benefit by not releasing Waveform Hearts, yet. I was able to work longer on shaping my sound and collect my analog gear.”

Graham Sedam, blog, thoughts, life, interests, Draze Force, III, Digital Ocean, Nick Morris, Synthwave, electronic music
Digging a little deeper into the creativity that went into the EP, I asked Nick what inspirations, if any, drove the project. I learned that the tracks III and Power Outage were heavily inspired by the Netflix show, Stranger Things, and that those were the first songs he wrote for III. Those two songs were originally a part of a different EP that he was putting together. Nick really liked the synthwave sound he had used on those songs, so he wrote three more.

While inspired by experiences and a variety of other stimuli, Nick admits that his music is mostly the result of experimentation with his gear and plugins and trying to draw out a specific mood with them. For instance, he explains that “III and Power Outage are supposed to have an aggressive feeling, while the songs Portal and The Replicant are supposed to be more uplifting.”

III is Nick’s first release while living in Colorado, having released his debut, Digital Ocean, in his native Minnesota. I wondered if Colorado’s beautiful vistas and general change of scenery from Minnesota had any affect upon his music. He hasn’t noticed any differences directly related to the change in atmosphere, but he says that his acquisition of a bunch of analog synths definitely has influenced him since the move.

“With this EP, I’ve never had real synths before and I wanted to take advantage of that. It’s been a very fun and rewarding learning experience. Usually, I write my music all in the box with no clear direction of where I want go or what I want to do. Each song has a different approach in getting formed. Some songs started with a drum pattern, with a bass line, and others started with the chorus section lead.”

I didn’t really know all of the circumstances surrounding Nick’s move to Colorado. I knew he had moved to work at a music company. Nick expanded my knowledge and told me that he had started working at a company called MakeMusic right out of college. The company was based in Eden Prairie, Minnesota at the time, but during his second day on the job, they announced that they were moving to Boulder, Colorado. Nick made the move and is still working with them.

Throughout my time talking to Nick and interacting with him on social media, it’s hard to not notice how much the technological side of music drives him. I interrogated Nick a little bit deeper about that aspect of his work. Along with this, he told me that III was the first project where he did everything himself, including mastering and the album art.

Nick’s music software of choice is Logic Pro X, and as of late, his favorite piece of gear has become the Dreadbox NYX; he loves the sound of its oscillator and filter. However, he finds that his most useful piece of gear is his MOTU 128 Express, immediately stating, “I literally could not have done this EP without it.”

He went on further after I prompted him to comment on his mixing process.

“I like to keep my mixing chains pretty clean and minimal. I automate channel volume the most. For me, if the track is not playing, it should be at -∞. I mainly only use EQ to cut a lot and boost a little bit.”

Graham Sedam, blog, thoughts, life, interests, Draze Force, III, Digital Ocean, Nick Morris, Synthwave, electronic music

My earliest memory of Nick’s existence is when my wife mentioned knowing someone who had also went to the same music college as me, the now defunct McNally Smith College of Music. This is where he expanded his skills and earned a Bachelor's of Science in Music. At the time, he was also a sound engineer running the board at a nearby church.

Sometime later, once again through my wife, I learned that Nick had released an album, Digital Ocean. I was interested in hearing it, because I like to seek out the creative works of people I know or the people I know, know. Besides, he was a fellow college alum, and I was curious. I was pleasantly surprised by Digital Ocean. It's mostly an instrumental endeavor, but there are a couple of tracks with guest vocalists.

While cut from a similar cloth, I can hear the growth Nick has attained from Digital Ocean to III. It's hard for me to define it exactly, but one could guess that there is some maturation in songwriting and engineering. Maybe it’s all of that new gear? Maybe it’s from working in the music industry? Nick spends countless hours around gear, and his job is to actually produce and design sounds. Throw all of that on top of him creating and experimenting in his “off hours” and why wouldn't anyone see such growth in their craft? I asked Nick to comment on Digital Ocean, and in particular, how working on it during college had an influence.

Digital Ocean is not an album I like to talk about too often. It was my college senior project and my first album done entirely in Logic Pro. (So long, Pro Tools) I was originally recording a band for this project, but things ended up falling through, so I decided to make my own project. I worked on this album (writing/programming, editing, and mixing) for the duration of my senior year at school. Part of the reason why I don't like talking about Digital Ocean is because of how the school influenced the album. I just felt rushed with writing it and even more rushed with mixing. I ended up taking it down from digital streaming sites because I wasn't happy with it. We may see a revised version of Digital Ocean in the future, but I don't know when.”

In addition to working at MakeMusic, experimenting with gear and songwriting, and enjoying the Colorado life, Nick has branched out a bit, too. Back in 2017, he had an article published on MakeMusic’s website called "Using Garritan Sounds in Ableton Live 9."

Recently, he has created a remix of the song Forefront by the band Prep Rally. I asked him how this opportunity came about and if he had any more of these side projects lined up.

“I'm good friends with Prep Rally's vocalist, Tatum. She had approached me and asked if I'd remix one of their songs. I really enjoy Forefront, so I decided to do that one. I pretty much worked on the remix in an airport and on the plane. It was a great way to pass the time. There are no other remixes lined up at this time, but I'm always open to the idea.”

Two days ago, I saw that a musician, Markie The Hero, just released a track on Soundcloud for free download called Game Over. Draze Force is featured on the track. I asked Nick what exactly that meant.

"I sent him a few loops I made and added some effects to the vocals and guitars. The song is really his vision and I got to be a small part of it."

Just last night, Nick did his first stream on Twitch. You can check it out here on the Draze Force channel. This post will be finished before I have a chance to watch... I'm sure it will be great!

Graham Sedam, blog, thoughts, life, interests, Draze Force, III, Digital Ocean, Nick Morris, Synthwave, electronic music
Everyone and everything has an origin story, and so I asked Nick to briefly tell me how he started out in music and why he chose the path that he has. Nick has clearly found and has been able to make a living doing something that he loves, something that drives him.

“I took piano lessons when I was a child and hated it. I really wanted to be a drummer in a rock band, so my parents signed me up for drum lessons. Eventually, I discovered the world of samplers, sequencers, and synthesizers, and it was game over.”

As we approach this post’s “game over” status, I asked Nick one more question: What kind of advice would he give to a musician starting out?

“To a musician starting out, I would say always be experimenting with sounds and try the crazy ideas. Deadmau5 says in his master class 'experimentation over inspiration.' I have that written on my studio screen as a reminder to never stop experimenting. Be curious!”

I think that's some solid advice. Even if one isn't active as a maker in the arts, it can still be applied. Godspeed, Nick.

You can find Draze Force music at Spotify, iTunes, Bandcamp, and pretty much anywhere else music is sold or streamed. My favorite option is Bandcamp. Not only do artists retain the majority of the profits, but it is incredibly artist and fan friendly!

Curious about the beginnings of IIIWatch this video.

Visit the Draze Force website, where you can listen to III, find ways to connect on social, and more!

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