An Interview with: Brandon Fragassi (Modulated Musik)


Brandon Fragassi

What artist name do you play under?

Modulated Musik

Where are you from?

Houston, TX, USA

How did you get involved with the Synthstrom world tour at SXSW?

I’ve been a huge fan of the Deluge for a few years and have used it live with my modular system several times. When they announced they were looking for feature performers I reached out to them and applied to perform. I think they were interested in having me perform as I mainly use the Deluge as an out board sequencer with Eurorack and they wanted to showcase the different use scenarios for the product. 

How long have you been building your impressive modular setup?

Close to three years. I wanted to get into modular for some of the effects initially, but it’s a deep, dark rabbit hole. Once I realized I wanted to build a system for Improvisational dance music, that’s where my focus has stayed and I’ve been building towards a live performance dance music system.

What is your current hardware setup and what couldn’t you live without?

It’s mostly composed of eurorack modular  at this point but I also have several desktop synths; Sonicware ELZ-1, Make Noise 0-Coast, Doepfer Dark Energy, Novation Circuit Mono Station, Korg EMX, Korg MicroKORG, Korg Volca Drum, Elektron Model:Samples with Cycles on order. I also am a fan of Teenage Engineering and have an OP-1, OP-Z, several Pocket Operators. I think the one box I couldn’t live without, if I had to get rid of everything else is probably the Synthstrom Audible Deluge. It’s just so versatile and it can be used all by itself.

What is your musical background and how did you end up here?

I originally came from a classical piano background. Was originally a music major in college but ended up graduating with a technical degree to work on electronics and computers. I was in a couple of small live bands as a keyboard/piano player such as jazz and worship throughout high school and college. I stopped doing anything with music for almost a decade when I started my career but decided to get back into it as a hobby doing small synth setup stuff. I was enamoured with the stuff on YouTube, so, as I felt more comfortable I started posting videos on there and eventually on Instagram.

What are your main goals for 2020?

My goals for this year are to post more videos and grow my YouTube channel and I also have a heavy focus on performing live in my current city(Houston) as well as in Austin, TX because the live music scene is much bigger there. 

What is your main platform for promotion and why?

I guess YouTube, that’s what really got me into this hobby, the living room studio guys posting videos on there. I’ve also been branching out and posting stuff on Instagram and Facebook. Our local synth group ‘Modular Houston’ has a decent size following on FB and we organize a lot of our meet-ups and performances on there and Instagram. We also have a Facebook page for the group.

How often do you post and how do you know when a piece of music is ready to share?

I try to post a couple times a month. I’d like to post more(at least once a week), but it’s difficult sometimes with all the other stuff I have going on. When I’m making a track and I spend a long time jamming/dancing to it by myself, that’s when I know I need to get it recorded and posted. With the modular stuff it’s important since it’s really never the same twice. I’ve learned that if I don’t get it recorded in the moment, then it’s lost once I power off and unpatch. 

What gear is on your wish list right now?

The Model:Cycles(which I do have ordered), the Elektron Analog Four(which I’m hoping to remedy very shortly), and then a few eurorack modules to finish out some tweaks to my live techno system. I’m specifically wanting some new effects such as the Make Noise Mimeophone.

Who are you listening to at the moment?

My go to for commuting right now is ‘Minimal Techno’, and ‘Acid House & Techno Breaks’ music playlists on Spotify. I specifically am really digging Le Matos and Squarepusher currently.

See the links below for more from Modulated Musik

An Interview with: Andrea Caccese (Dead Rituals)

 Some formalities first then…

Name: Andrea Caccese

Artist name: Dead Rituals

Where are you from/Based? Naples, Italy

Genre(s): Shoegaze, Alternative Rock, Post-Punk

Any label affiliations: Hideout Recordings (Our own label / studio)

On to the good stuff…

You seemed to record for this project between America and Italy, what’s the reason for travelling so much for the records?

I am originally from Italy, but I spent roughly 15 years abroad. I’ve been living in New York City over the last few years, where I was playing in a few local bands. I started recording the first Dead Rituals EP there, but it was completed in Melbourne, Australia, where I stayed for a year. Eventually I decided to move back to Italy, where I hooked up with some old friends and we turned what was mainly my solo recording project into a more collaborative band, where we can experiment with different ideas and sounds.

Who produces your material?

I am a big studio nerd, and I amassed a collection of nice instruments and analog gear over the years. I love to use some of my favourite vintage preamps and compressor, which aren’t as great as utility tools, but they are amazing at coloring the sounds in unique ways. The immediacy of analog is a big part of the sound for me, but the versatility of digital allows me to work quickly and effectively, which today is essential.

What does your set up look like? (Hardware/Go to plug ins etc)

I mostly record through vintage tube and FET preamps from a company called Altec, but I also love modern stuff like the 610 preamp from Universal Audio. Their stuff is particularly known for the Motown era sound, and it is definitely not subtle. When I don’t need color, I simply use interface pres from RME or Apogee, depending on what I am after. I use a lot of hardware compression as well, with a few FET altec units from the 70s, as well as affordable, but trustworthy stuff like DBX 160s and SYMETRIX 501s.

In the digital domain, I’m comfortable with Logic, and i tend to use plugins from Soundtoys, Oeksound, Klanghelm and Black Rooster Audio – they sound excellent and cover most of my needs!

I also have a nice selection of instruments, with some drums and percussion, a dozen guitars and basses, as well as a few analog and digital hardware synths. I am kind of new to synths and it was initially scary to dive into it, coming from a very raw punk background where all you needed was a loud amp and a scruffy guitar! However, I feel like I discovered a whole new world. I have a Moog Sirin, which I really love for cool monophonic sounds and bass tones, as well as as an Organelle and a couple of the Volca series units from Korg. There is something quirky and lo-fi about those which I really like

Dead Rituals Performing Live

What is your current hardware/pedal setup and what couldn’t you live without?

I have something like 50-60 pedals and some of them live on my live board, others are exclusively for studio use. In the studio, I am in love with my vintage Boss DM-3 analog delay. The DM2 gets all the good press, but there is something about the DM-3 that really speaks to me. It’s the perfect “Always on” type delay for subtle effects. It gets some use on vocals too!

I always change stuff around, but one of my “can’t live without” effects would be Mr. Black’s Eterna reverb. It is a magical algorithm with a character I just haven’t found on any other reverb. It can be subtle, but it can also go in near oscillation, with a gritty, modulated edge to it. It’s all over the Dead Rituals EP, and even more so on the newer stuff we’re currently recording.

What happened to your other projects such as ‘I used to be a sparrow’, what is your musical background and how did you end up here?

I spent about 7 years in Sweden, and I Used To Be A Sparrow was my main music project there. I co-wrote two albums with my talented friend, Francis Pettersson, who is now making music as Francis Moon. Eventually I left Sweden and moved to the States, and he moved to Holland, so we couldn’t really viably continue to make music as I Used To Be A Sparrow, but we still try and collaborate on stuff when we can – Francis recently did some vocals on Dead Rituals’ song, Melbourne! Now that we’re both in Europe we might be able to do more Sparrow stuff at some point, who knows!

Your new song Closer has had an impressive amount of plays, have you promoted this song differently to your other tracks?

As a small independent artist, I realised that promoting a first release from a brand new musical project can be quite difficult. The idea was to focus on heavily promoting one song only, but I couldn’t bring myself to only do one single, so I preferred to release an EP instead, just to have something more out there. The song “Closer” was released with a music video, which thankfully was picked up by a few bloggers and even an MTV feature that focuses on new artists, which was kind of a nice boost for it.

Not to sound arrogant, but I think that the other songs would have done just as well if I had the time and resources to promote those the same way as I did with Closer, but since I only really had the opportunity to push harder on one song, I figured that was the one to bet on, just because it was the latest one I wrote for the project and felt fresher in my mind!

In a perfect world, I would have loved to have the budget to do similar animated music video for each track, and have enough budget and free time to promote them all equally.

Something I struggle with when it comes to my own music, is that I can have two songs that I believe are equally as strong but one just naturally out performs another. What do you think make some songs more successful than others? Do you think it’s always an accurate reflection on how good the track is?

I think that the way people respond to music involves something more than just people liking one song over another. There are just so many factors at plays and at times, content presentation and pure chance matter. For instance, people often overlook music that’s release as audio only, but the very same song can grow hugely popular with a music video that’s fun or engaging. Or one day, you can have a blogger or a playlist maker who is really  into one of your tracks and give you a nice shot at some greater exposure, purely out of someone’s personal taste.

As an artist, I’ve loved some songs I made, that have not really gone anywhere or have never even been published, but I don’t really think about it – In the end, I like to make music that makes me feel good, and if other people like it, even better! If not, I’ll always still cherish each song and the memories associated with each project.

What are your main goals for 2020?

Survive Coronavirus, and record more music! I am currently learning how to play the drums – I am at a basic level but I am a pretty self-sufficient drummer for studio work in relation to my music and the drum parts I write – I’d love to get better at that too!

How often do you post and how do you know when a piece of music is ready to share?

I would love to get in the habit to post more work-in-progress stuff or in-the-making kind of stories, but I often get too immerse with the music that I don’t even have a phone nearby aha – So far, I’ve been posting some brief studio snippets and fully-finished songs when they’re released!

What gear is on your wish list right now?

I would love a Pultec equalizer in hardware form, as well as a really nice hardware reverb, possibly a cool spring!

Who are you listening to at the moment?

At the moment I am loving the latest Mac Miller album, Circles. I definitely recommend it to anyone, not just hip-hop fans. The production and songwriting on that record are exceptional, and there is an incredible variety of styles and sounds on there!

For more from Dead Rituals follow the links below…

An Interview with: Jesse Thamer (Chroma Surge)

I recently caught up with Jesse about his hardware setup, why he couldn’t live without his Deluge and his music goals for 2020. Check out the interview here…

I think it’s important to start by saying that since I met you (in a virtual online capacity), What I’ve admired most is the level of effort you go to, supporting and encouraging others within the community. I see your name pop up a lot in other artists posts on YouTube and instagram, with kind and personal comments. That includes my own posts, so thank you for that.

But aside from that, you also make great music yourself. What genre would you classify yourself?

Thank you very much for that! I appreciate the kind words, which I think apply to yourself as well! I just really love music, and I know the amount of work and heart that goes into making songs that people often will listen to the first 15 seconds of and move on, so I try to make an effort to listen to full tracks and show the artist that I have with a more specific comment. Not always (nobody has infinite time), but when I can!

As for what genre I would put myself in, I’m afraid I don’t have a solid answer for that, as I think my music is all over the board. I usually just generally say I make “electronic” or “synth” music when people ask me, but I just tag each song appropriately if it’s synthwave, or ambient, etc. I have a wide range of musical influences and genres I like (inside and outside of electronic), so what kind of music I make often depends on what I’ve been listening to that day, and how I’m feeling.

What is your current hardware setup and what couldn’t you live without?

My current setup revolves around the Synthstrom Deluge as the brains and most of the melodies, as well as percussion on most tracks. I recently got the Elektron Model:Cycles which is loads of fun by itself, but I mainly got it with the idea of using it to make more intricate drum tracks to go alongside the Deluge. In addition, I have an Arturia Minilab Mk2 if I need midi control of either device, and a Teenage Engineering PO-33 that I occasionally use.

I couldn’t live without the Deluge. The amount of things it is capable of is dizzying, and the workflow is perfect for me.

What is your musical background and how did you end up here?

I have only been making electronic music for about a year. I have however been playing instruments since I was 16 and got my first guitar. Since then I picked up many different instruments, including the drums, violin, and piano. There was even awhile when I was learning how to play the bagpipes! I used to play primarily acoustic folk music, but I have always listened to a wide variety of music and loved electronic, but never thought it was approachable to learn to play myself without going to school for it.

I started seeing videos on some “grooveboxes” which were extremely appealing to me, as I like music to be more hands on. I tried making electronic music on a computer years ago but couldn’t get into it, but having a self contained box that can make a full song from start to finish with knobs and buttons is exactly what I wished existed but had no clue about for most of my life. I started watching tutorial videos on some teenage engineering devices like the OP-Z and PO33 and eventually picked up an OP-Z, which I loved and made a bunch of music on. Ultimately though I found about the Deluge and knew instantly that it was the perfect machine for me, and reluctantly sold my OP-Z to pay for it.

What are your main goals for 2020?

My musical goals for 2020 are mostly just to keep making and releasing songs frequently, and keep improving myself and trying new things with the devices I have. Also I am playing a brief set on the Synthstrom Release Tour in Toronto which is my first show, and I am very much looking forward to that. Outside of music, I am getting married to a wonderful woman in the fall which is amazing!

What is your main platform for promotion and why?

My main platform for promotion is Instagram, because the community for electronic music seems to be the most active there than anywhere else. People post and comment constantly and it is wonderful to be a part of. I prefer the layout of YouTube as I like full songs (though I do use IGTV), but the traffic there is much worse for me. I always upload to both, however.

How often do you post and how do you know when a piece of music is ready to share?

I have a goal to post at least one song a week. Sometimes it isn’t possible, and sometimes I post more often, but that is what I aim for. I have a bad habit of being impatient with wanting to release a song so sometimes I will release a track before it is perfected, however as most of my songs are jams on a pattern it is generally okay to me if they have some imperfections. I don’t generally master tracks afterwards, I usually record directly in the deluge using the resample feature and then combine that audio in a video editing software with the video I took.

What gear is on your wish list right now?

For my gear wishlist, to be honest as I just got the Model Cycles I am not looking at any gear for a long while (I am getting married after all!). There are lots of pieces I think would be great to have like the Arturia Microfreak for arpeggios or the TE Helicon Perform VE for adding vocals to tracks, but they would be a long way away if I got them. I do just like watching videos of cool new gear though and seeing what people do with them.

Who are you listening to at the moment?

What I’m listening to is usually all over the place. For electronic, I’ve been listening to Jeremy Blake, Rikinish, BØLT, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Gorillaz, Sällskapet, Darren Korb, Ben Prunty,  Daniel Deluxe, etc. For metal, I’ve been listening to Demons and Wizards, Kvelertak, Mastodon, Borknagar, Bloodbath, Ghost, and Blind Guardian. For acoustic music, I’ve been listening to Tenhi, Low Roar, and Fleet Foxes.