Well, we’re all thrilled here at Anarchy Films to be working with an amazing composer with the dual identity of Rob Shedwick/ Digital Front. We thought it was about time we caught up with Rob and forced him to answer some questions 🙂
[You can also check out Rob’s music (and indeed, some samples of music for our next film The Mask Within) at http://digital-front.com/]
Anarchy Films: Please tell us about how you started off with music, childhood instrument fixations, what you learned to play – and why – and any amusing stories of early embarrassing bands (I myself had “a teddy bear band called Adam and the Ants 2”).
Rob Shedwick: My mum played clarinet in a Polish jazz band, and was absolutely determined one of her children would be musical… I guess I just took up the mantle. She had her father’s banjo tucked away in her wardrobe and when I was really young it completely fascinated me. Only one of the strings was still intact, but I’d open up the case and pluck away at it and just watch that string vibrate. Entertainment was thin on the ground back then!
In primary school everyone wound up playing the recorder and I was no different. Even by typical child standards I was really terrible at it, but that didn’t stop me applying to try and get to play one of the schools two(!) clarinets – but that was not to be, no doubt due to my inept demonstrations with a recorder. The same went for trumpet and flute. Clearly I’m not cut out for wind instruments unless it’s a kazoo, and I’m pretty bad at that too. I imagine at that point my mum was devastated!
After the revelation that anything requiring my lungs to operate it was out of the question I turned my attention to the guitar because a piano (which is what I really wanted) was totally out of the question. My parents got me an “Axe” (a very cheap brand of electric guitar at the time) for my 14th birthday. The action was ridiculously high so playing for any length of time was fairly painful! But I couldn’t leave it alone. Pretty soon I was playing Judas Priest and Metallica riffs, had lessons, and it became apparent the gods had decided this was my intended musical outlet all along.
The first “bands” I formed with friends were fantastically awful. Stampeding Horses Of Thrash was myself and two friends armed with my guitar, an upturned bucket for percussion, and a tape recorder. After writing around fifty songs we realized we’d got the acronym completely wrong and rectified it to Stampeding Horses In Thrash.
I progressed onto a ‘proper’ electric guitar when I was 18 – a Washburn G5V. A beautiful guitar. Black, with shark fin inlays, locking nuts, amazing action. I called her Melinda, after actress Melinda Clarke who I had a teenage crush on. I don’t know if it’s normal or not to give your guitar a name.
Anyway, by this point I’d formed a more serious band, which dissolved at the same time as two other bands people I knew at college were in, so between us we formed a new band (called Peanut). We rehearsed a lot, played gigs, recorded some demos at a professional studio, and got signed by Too Damn Loud! Records. But, there were arguments. A lot of arguments. Cutting a long and frankly forgettable story short we imploded and just couldn’t work together anymore.
Three of us formed a band from the ashes called Louis Wu but it didn’t last long; I didn’t get on brilliantly with one of the other members, so I called it a day and left.
AF: I recall you being a wizard on the guitar – but then you transferred to digital music. Can you explain why this transition occurred, and what impact it had on your compositions?
RS: A wizard? Why thank you very much! Well, the transition happened fairly organically to be honest. I was fed up with band politics and pretty much abandoned music altogether for a short time because the thought of writing and subsequently arguing with a group of people completely depressed me.
Then at some point, someone mentioned Reason to me – which is a digital workstation for writing music. I played with a demo version on my pc and was so blown away I bought the full version the next day. It was just amazing – my own virtual recording studio where I could write complete songs without a five-way four hour argument in a rehearsal room! Hallelujah! Plus, unlike other music software it’s set up like a traditional analogue studio rack system which was what I’d become used to in the real world, so I got to grips with it pretty quickly.
In terms of how it affected the way I write, I guess the most obvious thing is I was no longer using a guitar so it was more adapting to the wealth of other things that I suddenly had at my disposal – drums, piano, synths, strings, these were the instruments that sounded most polished in that artificial environment so they became the dominant sounds.
That also led to th3 m1ss1ng several years later, which was myself and the only other person from Peanut and Louis Wu on the same wavelength as me. That was fun. I’d moved away from Manchester so we did everything over the internet; I would sketch out riffs and email them to Paul, then he’d put vocal ideas down and send them back, then we’d work out structures and glue it all together. It was a completely different way of writing for us and led to some really cool stuff.
AF: How would you define “Rob Shedwick” and “Digital Front”?
RS: Ummm… I have no idea! I think originally I was kind of hiding behind having Digital Front as a pseudonym, but more recently I’ve fallen into Rob Shedwick being the guy who writes soundtrack music and Digital Front being pretty much anything else I write. I’ve never really had a plan for how the two should coexist!
AF: What are your musical influences?
RS: They’re a bit messy. I grew up with a mixture of heavy metal, punk, classical, jazz, and country and western… the latter I hated though lol. Metal was the biggest influence of all – particularly Judas Priest. Glenn Tipton is an amazing guitarist, and the whole reason I got into guitar was because I wanted to play as eloquently as he does. His solo from Beyond The Realms of Death remains my all time favourite lead (http://youtu.be/y60Mo_Nmydg?t=3m5s). I wish I was even half as talented as him, he phrases leads like they’re vocal lines. Truly beautiful playing.
Other key influences are Pixies, The Crystal Method, Nine Inch Nails, Charlie Clouser, and John Murphy. I listen to a lot of different stuff really, but I avoid trying to emulate other people. There seems little point in doing something already out there.
AF: I recall saying at some point that I believed you were a musical “genius”. How does it feel to be a genius? (whether you believe it or not).
RS: Ha ha ha! I don’t believe I’m a genius, but I do (I really do!) appreciate the compliment 🙂 Then again anyone who believes they’re a genius is likely delusional! Personally I’m prone to massive bouts of self-doubt and Kafka-esque periods of wanting to destroy everything I’ve ever written. My wife usually manages to stop me before I hit the delete button.
AF: You have been part of the band th3 m1ssing, composed music for Remic’s films Impurity and The Mask Within – what exciting new projects have you got lined up next?
RS: I’m working on an album. Outside of that I’m just taking things as they happen. I like doing the soundtrack stuff so hopefully more of that will come my way, and I’d really like to work with a singer again. That’s a lot of fun with the right person.
AF: Describe your perfect day.
RS: Wake up. Eat Frosties. Shower. Write a track where every single note and synth and drum hit and sample I choose is perfect. Celebrate with a bottle of wine and a film about sharks. Then successfully avoid going back to the track and deleting it.