Storytelling through sound design
Everyone has a different reason to create something they’re passionate about. I really love meeting different artists and hearing what that reason is exactly, and when I arrived in the bay area I was given a sizable list of musicians to check out so I could begin my journey in doing just that. First of all, the bass/trap scene in Northern California is absolutely insane. Los Angeles is becoming crowded, and the industry is no exception to this. Bass and Trap producers are plentiful, but the act’s that get booked by major festivals and popular weekly parties in LA are mostly all rinsing the same tracks in a pre-mixed set (there are exceptions — check out stosu., Solotrip, or anyone on the Fuzzy Puddles compilations, for example). However, The Bay Area has something very unique going on in the production I’ve been hearing (highly attributed to Oakland’s Wormhole Wednesday, I’m sure.) The unique sound design and trap beats coming from some of these young producers out here is just magnificient and the entire list I was given was mind-blowing, to say the least. The creativity and forward thinking coming out of this area is just so refreshing. I listened to a lot of impressive music and read about a lot of incredible people, but when I got to Devin Menzies, aka Womp Rat, and his Soundcloud page I read one of the best little taglines I’ve come across in a producers bio: “Storytelling Through Sound Design”.
It’s warm out, and Devin sips on a chilled beer in the back patio of the bar we’re at in Oakland called Eli’s Mile High. A friend of mine told us to check it out, and even though the bar was admittedly less than stellar and in a crappy area, the drinks were cold & cheap so we were fine. Devin has been making music since he was nine, playing the Saxophone in school before picking up the guitar in the fifth grade. At only 24, he’s been producing since his sophomore year in High School and his sound design and mixing skills are truly next level. “I come from a guitar-centric background, like punk and heavy metal. I’ve always liked music that’s sharp around the edges, but has a full body to it,” Devin takes another sip of his beer, “so naturally when I heard bass music, I was like, ‘wait this is a more refined version of power chords’.” He has a point, as you can really get down to all the individual frequencies that make up a bass tone. Being a guitarist originally, Menzies admits he was always much more interested in the technical aspects of that rather than the intricacies of what was going on behind the scenes. Only after getting into dubstep did he start to acknowledge what went into the mixing and production of a song, although Menzies’ music doesn’t really harken back to that early dubstep sound. “I was always more interested in doing things my own way.”
“I try to do things on the more fantastical side”
Womp Rat draws inspiration for the composition & sound design of his music from the stories he loves. “I try to do things on the more fantastical side,” Menzies says, “Be it television, or books, I draw a lot of inspiration from those stories — They make a huge impact on my life.” This didn’t come as a surprise, even “Womp Rat” is a reference to a creature from the world of Star Wars (though, the signature “womp” bass sound does compliment the moniker nicely) and I’d be lying if I pretended the nerd in me doesn’t love that. “When I sit down to write music, I want to tell a story. I try to turn the impact these stories have made on me around and put that energy back out into the world with my music.” Personally, I could already hear this in the young producer’s original mixes before our conversation. His sound design is eloquent and troubling at the same time and, at times, it really does feel like listening to a well-paced, planned out story of epic proportions (Also, the various video game and pop culture samples in his music really do a great job at aiding that feeling.)
“All sounds can be considered music, it’s just a matter of how you arrange it,” Menzies states poetically before another gulp of beer, “That realization really opened up a lot of doors for me. It doesn’t come down to just my skill as a guitarist, I’m no longer limited to the sounds I can make with that single instrument.” Devin mentions that the various and creative sound effects used to tell stories in movies, like Star Wars, are one of the things that drives him to create the music he does. A fan of both American & Japanese anime (such as Samurai Shampoo, Naruto and Cowboy Bebop), books like Terry Pratchett’s “The Disc World” novels, a catalog of video games (Witcher 3, Borderlands, etc.) and tons of science fiction films, Devin certainly has plenty to gather inspiration from. His track, “Duel of the Plates” (a play on the infamous Star Wars composition, ‘Duel of the Fates’) is a perfect example of how Menzies uses these stories and influences to put incredible music & energy out into the world.
“All sounds can be considered music, it’s just a matter of how you arrange it”
“I make music for people with short attention spans because I have a short attention span. When I’m making music I tend to ask myself, ‘Am I gonna get bored of this?’” The approach is successful, every single track I hear by the producer/DJ slaps and accomplishes every goal he talks to me about trying to achieve. Menzies’ passion for creating music is creativity driven, and it shows. He shares his belief that there “isn’t enough emotion being put out by producers” and it’s clear he’s on a mission to never fall into that category. Even his talks about future live shows and the aesthetic he tries to build around his brand have a huge amount of character and creativity in them, confirming to me that everything about Womp Rat is curated with love and respect for sound and the stories it can tell. He notes G Jones’ recent track, “Time” as a current favorite for the melancholy but triumphant feelings its conveys. “It’s only gonna get more refined, its only gonna get more niche. People are going to have to think ahead to stand out from the curve. You know? Like ‘What is the next step’ kind of thing, and it makes me excited for the future of bass music”.
One thing Menzies has been trying to cultivate in his aesthetic is his love for Pixel Art, most recently he used the style in the artwork for his track “Bombtrack” which he released upon hitting 1,000 followers on Soundcloud last month. “It ties into my love for video games, and it’s just a really interesting art style. It’s imperfect because it’s pixelated and not necessarily high quality, but on a computer display — which we use to consume everything now — Pixels look really fucking good.” I’m excited to see where he takes the art style in relation to his unique brand of bass music, and from the sound of things, we can be sure to see more cool pixelated artwork on his coming releases. Another cool thing that Menzies is doing with his brand is his collection of songs on his Rat Stash soundcloud page: a separate account created to showcase tracks he wants to share, but don’t necessarily fall into the vibes of his Womp Rat project. “The songs are mostly finished, but not quite there” he says, but you can hardly tell. Menzies says that what originally started as a place to put failed projects that he loved enough to share is now becoming a very specific vibe he’s labeled as “space western”, beautifully exampled in the recent release, “Marauder’s Day Off”. Menzies confidently says we can expect more songs like it, and I can’t wait to hear the direction he takes those tracks.
Aside from music, we talked to Devin about how disgusting the BART is (though, it beats driving into the city), Mountain Biking (an exercise he mentions helped pull him out of a depression), video games, movies, and before heading back to his house for a game of Risk with Phers, we even explored Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland a little bit. Womp Rat is charming, humble, friendly and extremely talented, and he just put out an EP with friends Phers and Concentrate on Wormhole Music Group’s label and the entire EP is great. In the following weeks I’ll be diving deeper into the bass scene in the bay area with exclusive interviews with both the aforementioned artists, but until then you can check out the EP here. Womp Rat has already released a catalog of incredible tracks that showcase his unique music expression and incredible sound design, and he’s just getting started. Talking to him was refreshing because it confirmed that the future of the genre is good hands, and it’s good to see there’s still people who utilize their imaginations. We’ll be following his career here at Faded Morgana, updating this page with new releases and show dates a long the way.
FM FAVORITE TRACK: LABYRINTHIAN