A Journal Of The Dark Arts

“It Is What It Is.” An Interview With Darksoft

credit/ Look Up Records

“For lyrics on Beigeification, I’m using a lot of “thought-terminating cliches,” or beige phrases as I’ve come to call them,” says Darksoft, a singer/songwriter/producer/polymath from Portland, Maine, when asked about the title on his excellent new LP, Beigeification. ” These overused phrases have the effect of ending a conversation, because they are vague, universal truths. What’s also interesting is that grammatically they say absolutely nothing, and they lack uniqueness, but they can carry a lot of weight in context.”

Simple statements conveying complex thoughts and emotions – it’s a tidy metaphor for Darksoft”s distinctive blend of shoegaze-/dream pop-infused bedroom pop.

It’s uncanny what can come out of someone’s bedroom – or more specifically, basement studio in Darksoft’s case – when someone knows what they’re doing. Not everyone who’s an excellent songwriter is a trained audio engineer, though. 

Being in a one-person band has its limitations, as well. You’ve got no one to bounce ideas off of, for one thing. You’ve also got to do everything yourself.

“But going the solo route, you can easily lose focus,” says Darksoft, a singer/songwriter/producer/polymath from Portland, Maine when asked about some of the limitations of writing, playing, recording and producing all of his material. “I’m constantly tinkering and moving on to new ideas, and because of that, I finish very little. I estimate I only release about 5% of what I make. Sometimes inspiration strikes! But most often, without a song structure going in, I get stuck listening to an eight-bar progression on loop, and things go nowhere fast.”

We had a chance to sit down with Darksoft to talk about Beigeification, Darksoft’s excellent new dream pop/shoegaze LP that dropped on Friday the 13th on Seattle’s Look Up Records – including some nitty-gritty, hands-on technical details. We also talk about dream pop vs. shoegaze, soullessness, Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush and, of course, Sugar Ray.

still from “It Is What It Is” music video//credit:@Look Up Records

12 Questions For Darksoft

You own your own studio and do your own recording, don’t you? If so, are there any challenges of recording yourself? Are there any advantages or things you like?

Yeah! I have a basic home studio that suits my needs. I’ve been self-recording music in some form or other since I was a teenager. I used to record bands for a bit of beer cash in college, and am self-taught on audio engineering skills. I’ve accumulated some gear over the years, like microphones, amps, pedals, cords, and instruments. Thankfully I have the space these days to move that all into my basement, so I don’t have to rent a studio space.

I had some negative experiences with “real” recording studios in the past. With studios, you’re always on the clock. The advantage of doing it yourself is the convenience without any pressure. I prefer to treat recording as more of an ongoing writing project that I can pop into and work on when there’s free time. Obviously, you save loads of cash doing it yourself too. And, with the tools and software these days, it’s never been easier. I also am meticulous about doubling takes and recording small chunks at a time. My weirdo process probably wouldn’t translate into a studio studio setting.

On the other hand, you have to wear more hats. And, there’s something to be said for the natural vibrancy of physical studios with professionally treated rooms. I have a friend, Todd Hutchisen, who plays guitar in Crystal Canyon and also co-runs Acadia Recording studio in Portland Maine. He described it to me as “moving the air,” which I think is a cool way to think about what’s literally going on.

You play all the instruments on your albums, don’t you? Again, are there any challenges to this approach? Any benefits?

Yep, I do. I remember being inspired after learning how Dave Grohl wrote and recorded the first Foo Fighters album himself. That’s more common in the 2020s, but in 1994 it wasn’t. I think the benefit of this approach is that you have total control and can quickly put ideas together in a matter of hours. Also, you can more easily produce for a specific micro-genre, or create a conceptual album. Doing so is nearly impossible once you get a bunch of heads in the same room with their various tastes and egos.

But going the solo route, you can easily lose focus. I’m constantly tinkering and moving on to new ideas, and because of that, I finish very little. I estimate I only release about 5% of what I make. Sometimes inspiration strikes! But most often, without a song structure going in, I get stuck listening to an eight-bar progression on loop, and things go nowhere fast.

You can also lose sight of what sounds good at times. Jamming with others, you get instant feedback, but that’s impossible going the solo route. Thankfully, I have a cool partner with a good ear who can help pick out gems from all my not-so-great ideas.

I hear elements of both shoegaze and dream pop in your music, especially in the guitars and vocals. Do you relate to either or both of those genres? And, if so, is it a conscious decision to make the vocals a little bit more intelligible and front- and-center than commonly heard in shoegaze?

Yeah, I definitely relate to both genres. Before Darksoft, I was playing guitar in a psychedelic-bent dream pop band. As that was going defunct, I got more into shoegaze. I was listening to the DKFM online station often for inspiration. Now those DJs spin Darksoft releases, which is very cool. But I don’t really consider Darksoft shoegaze, maybe shoegaze-adjacent at best.

You’re right — the shoegaze genre typically buries vocals a bit deeper in the mix. The vocal melodies that come to me are a bit more rhythmic, and I like placing vocal accents on the offbeat. That’s hard to do with too much saturation, and I also want the lyrics to be more intelligible and more intimate.

I modeled my vocal style in part after Courtney Taylor-Taylor from The Dandy Warhols. He often sings in a soft breathy baritone range with a good amount of vocal doubling and wide-panning. Elliot Smith and John Lennon were also inspirations. Lennon was well-known for doing a lot of vocal-doubling, which I know inspired Nirvana’s producer when making Nevermind.

I’m reminded of everyone from The Cure to the Cocteau Twins, listening to Beigeification. Are either of those bands influences on your work and, if so, how so? What are some other musicians or bands that you consider part of Darksoft’s genetic makeup?

I’ve listened to both The Cure and Cocteau Twins a bunch, and they’ve both probably influenced my style, probably The Cure most of the two. The Darksoft genetics are subject to mutation. But I’d guess some artists/bands that forged the identity include: Elliott Smith, My Bloody Valentine, Dick Dale, Nirvana, Slowdive, The Cure, Tears For Fears, and, of course, Sugar Ray

“Remember when everything was beige?”//credit:@Breadmaker/

Speaking of Beigeification, what does that name mean? Why’d you pick that for the album title.

Remember when everything was beige? In the early-2000s, when I was a teenager, everything seemed to be painted beige. My house was beige, my friend’s houses were beige, the school interior — beige. At the time, the trend was to renovate everything with a mind-numbingly mundane color palette in order to “increase resell value.” Kate Wagner describes this really well in ‘How Beige Took Over American Homes’ on Atlas Obscura. This obsession with neutrality is fascinating in a way… why would people want their living environment to be soulless and bland? And why did society perceive conformity as more valuable than uniqueness?

why would people want their living environment to be soulless and bland? And why did society perceive conformity as more valuable than uniqueness?

For lyrics on Beigeification, I’m using a lot of “thought-terminating cliches,” or beige phrases as I’ve come to call them. These overused phrases have the effect of ending a conversation, because they are vague, universal truths. What’s also interesting is that grammatically they say absolutely nothing, and they lack uniqueness, but they can carry a lot of weight in context. Example cliches: “it is what it is,” “you gotta do what you gotta do,” “what happens, happens,” “win some lose some,” and “only time will tell.” 

This theme was fun to play with, and I think fits the general attitude of late. To stay sane and functional as a digital being living within a 24-hour news cycle, you sort of have to accept that an endless barrage of bad news will always be at your fingertips, and then focus on what matters to you. I don’t want to encourage inaction, but when so much negativity piles up, it’s like, what are you gonna do?

On Beigeification, I really tried to simplify with ‘less is more.’ Every song uses only one chord progression over and over. I realized I could just add or remove layers to change the vibe, or use different inversions. This approach was new to me and totally different from how I’ve written before, which was new chord changes from section to section. I also kept drums and bass simple. It’s more carefree. It is what it is.

What’s your recording setup like? How much do you rely on outboard gear and how much is digital?

My recording setup is pretty simple. For electric guitar, bass, and synths, I record direct-in using an Apollo Twin. For the drum kit, I use an Audix DP7 mic kit and an SM57 on the snare, using an 8-channel Focusrite Scarlett audio interface. For vocals, percussion, and other acoustic instruments, I use a C414 XLS multipattern condenser microphone, which is super versatile. I don’t have the fanciest mics, but they get the job done. 

I used to record my guitar amp, but lately, I prefer to get the cleanest direct-in sound possible. I  record multiple takes for guitars and layer them. Some of what you might think are synths are actually layered guitar takes. I record instruments clean, and then add effects later on. So, the effects are digital plugins. This approach gives you the opportunity to change effects later on.

Likewise, is there any particular software or plugins you particularly love or rely on for recording?

I use Logic Pro, which is like a second home to me. The key commands are muscle memories. I’m a fan of Logic Pro’s native low-cut, EQ, chorus, reverb, tape delay, and compressor plugins. Lately, I’ve also been using the rotor cabinet sound on vocals.

But I haven’t invested in cool non-Logic software plugins or anything. So when we go into mixing, I actually remove all the effects from my demo mix and bounce clean stems. I describe the sound I’m going for to the mixer, who then re-applies effects using their gear. I like this process, because, after solo songwriting, solo performing, and solo engineering, it really helps to bring in another set of ears to the production. It also brings some collaboration to the project too.

Beigification was mixed by Brian Fisher, who applied some smooth and wobbly choruses and dreamy reverbs and made it a fantastic production all in all. He also has a project called Eastern Souvenirs, who Darksoft played with recently at The Middle East in Boston. Zak Van Zeumeren mixed Cryo with some grunge crunch and psychedelic flair. Meltdown and Brain were mixed by Mathieu Riede, who had more of a proggy nugaze take. I couldn’t tell you offhand the exact plugins each mixer used. But I’ve been super lucky to work with all of these gifted people.

Beigeification feels a little more synth-focused than your last record, Cryo, which felt more guitar-centric. Would you say that’s so? If so, what are some reasons for the shift in focus? And, as above, are there any particular synths you love or can’t live without?

Yes, I’d say I leaned into the synths a bit on this album. All my albums have used synths as a supportive texture to some extent, but they are more at the forefront in Beigeification. I wanted to get more of a modern (or retro-futuristic?) sound, and I wanted to fill up any cracks in the mix’s EQ spectrum with warm, ambient sounds that shift with the chord planing.

I couldn’t live without my Alesis Micron synths! I own two — a red one and a blue one. I’m not a synth nut at all, I just use the presets. The Alesis Micron has some great fuzzy 80s-sounding string presets, as well as more whole-bodied pads and sub-bass settings. I also used the clarinet sound of my Casio MT-30 synth, an adorable cream-colored vintage synthesizer, on “Whatever It Takes.”

Lastly, I like the Space setting on the Behringer Reverb Machine pedal and have used that on a couple of Darksoft songs to get a sparkling shimmery ambience. You can hear that in the background on “Fast Lane” and “Something From Nothing.”

Speaking of guitars, how much of your guitar sound happens “outside of the box?” Is there any particular gear you especially love or can’t live without?

With guitars, nothing happens outside of the box, outside of my ongoing love saga with my Fender. 

On Beigeification, I recorded all guitar lines with my arctic white Eric Johnson edition Fender strat, which I love because it delivers such a pure sound and offers 5 pickups with very different EQs. My baby needs a gentle touch, so I use an extremely soft pick (great approach, as no one will ever ask to borrow your pick, lol). I also used the whammy bar a TON on this record too to get that surfy tone-bending.

Like I mentioned, I prefer to get the cleanest possible DI sound and then add plugins in the box. On Beigeification, I was craving less guitar crunch and more clean leads, reverbs, and delays. My technique for my demos is usually to record 4 identical guitar takes per part to get a wide-panned sound, with two takes in each channel. The effect is a natural wide chorus sound, even before you add plugins! For shows, my pedal board aims to interpret the sound for a live setting. But pedalboards and amps are a whole ‘nother story 😉

I’m reminded of a lot of 80s music on the new record, especially in the drums. Is that an era you resonate with? Was that a conscious feeling you wanted to evoke with these songs?

The inspiration for drums on this album was actually a specific song — Smashing Pumpkins – “1979.” It’s one of my favorite songs. I love the nostalgic feeling and wanted to use a similarly straight and driving drum take on Beigeification. “Fast Lane” was the first one I wrote for the album, and I actually used the exact drum beat and tempo from 1979 — total copy-and-paste. (Sorry, Billy Corgan. Not saying my music is anywhere near as good as yours). That song also has some Dandy Warhols and Brian Jonestown influence. 

But to answer your other question, yes, I leaned into some 80s influences on this one, especially with guitars and synth layers. Some quite literally — “You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do” is in the same key and tempo as Kate Bush – “Running Up That Hil.” I have been hooked on the ’80s since I first watched Donnie Darko cruise the suburbs on his bike to Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon.” Other songs in that movie, like Tears for Fears – “Head Over Heels,” evoke a chilling sense of belonging that you can’t help but fall in love with.

Some other favorites of the era include The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Ocean Blue, The Cure, Joy Division, New Order, Depeche Mode, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, Gary Numan, David Byrne, Orange Juice/Edwyn Collins, Primal Scream, and the C86 album. I like how recordings of this era blend acoustic and electronic sounds without sounding over-produced. Of course, many other contemporary artists have revived the jangle pop sound in the last decade or so, like Wild Nothing, Day Wave, Real Estate, Hibou, DIIV, or Black Marble, which I enjoy too. On Beigeification, I consciously tapped into this because I wanted to make music that was more listenable and trendy, not too serious, and more upbeat.

Speaking of drums, are most of the drums electronic on the new album? If so, did you do the drum programming yourself? Did you learn any tricks or techniques for keeping the drums interesting or to match the song or mix?

It may be surprising to hear, but none of the drums on the new album are electronically generated. Everything you hear is a live recording of me playing my Premier Artist Maple kit in my home studio. I just played really monotonously to a click and didn’t vary the parts much at all, so it almost sounds electronic. At times I was thinking about Fleetwood Mac, and how the drums are usually just an extremely simple standard rock beat with the occasional flourish. Put the snare on 2 and 4. Less is more, less is more. 

That being said, the parts have been quantized a bit, and in some songs, the hits are supported by samples to give them more umph. This is some editing work the mixing engineer on this album, Brian Fisher, did. Also, “Fast Lane” features samples from an Alesis SR-16 Classic Drum Machine in the intro and outro of the song. I also record certain drum elements separately, like crashes, tom hits, and ride swells. I like isolating tracks this way so you can adjust levels without getting any bleed from other mics. I then add supporting percussion like shaker, tambourine, and cabasa for flavor on the high-end.

I like an isolated drum sound with a dead attack and compressed tone. To get that punchy, direct sound, I spot-mic each drum in addition to using pencil mic overheads. It’s important to mic both the top and bottom of the snare, as it gives you control over how much “crack” or drum tone to give the snare. I’m glad you asked about drums toward the end. Drums are absolutely my favorite thing to lay down on, so I always save them for last too ;0

You toured your last album, Cryo, a little bit, after several years of lockdown. What were those shows like? What were the preparations like to translate the material for a live audience? What was it like playing live as opposed to in the studio? Any plans to tour Beigeification at all?

Darksoft had a two-week west coast tour planned for March 2020… right as everything was shutting down. We had to cancel all of that. So after two years of waiting around, it felt well-deserved for us, and many artists, to get back on the stage. Our first Seattle show in March 2022 serendipitously aligned with Washington’s governor declaring that masks were no longer needed for venues. People were smiling and happy, and there was an electric energy everywhere that weekend.

Later in the year, we did some more west coast dates and a small string of shows in New England. It has been more difficult for artists to tour lately — it’s not as sustainable as it once was. So, I’ve been arranging smaller scope, extended weekend mini-tours.

I write the Darksoft material with the intention of playing it with a live band, so most everything is easily translatable into a live setting, aside from some synth work. And I’ve had the opportunity to have some awesome musicians back me up. Huge thanks to Jesse Cohen, Patrick McCabe, Kara Auclair, Joseph Narducci, Jacobs Tessier, and Matt Nasi.

Beigeification is out now on Look Up Records.



ig: @darks0ft

Darksoft FB

Darksoft Soundcloud

Darksoft Bandcamp

Look Up Records


ig: @lookuprecords

Look Up Records FB

Look Up Records Soundcloud

Look Up Records YouTube

Look Up Records @ Spotify

Look Up Records Bandcamp

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