In this interview, we had the pleasure of talking with Ash Holbrook to talk about his new album Beautiful Distortion. He is a young and talented producer, composer, and songwriter from Bristol. He has composed music for short films, animations, and media in general. His notable works to date include an animation named Doloros, the short film ‘Our Father’ by Sami Abusamra, and the Amazon Prime drama series ‘Single And Anxious’. He has also worked on various solo commercial projects which culminated in his first solo album released on Arms. Now, let’s go meet this sound artist!
#Hey Ash, a pleasure to have you here. Could you tell us a bit more about “Beautiful Distortion”? What was the process of writing it and producing it like?
“Hey, guys! Well, I had been trying for quite a while to create a piece of music that was all about contrast and opposites. I wanted to attempt to warp and distort something regarded as beautiful and retain the beauty.
#Wow, quite the ambitious project.
“Yeah you bet” he answered laughing. “I couldn’t quite get it right for a while but one day I was playing around with some string libraries and tape. The tape machine added some distortion and dustiness that I instantly loved on the strings” – he then continued with a smile – “I added more until the strings were almost clouded behind a wall of dusty distortion and saturation, as though the beauty of the melodies and the strings were trying to escape through the distortion.”
#So that’s how it all began.
“Absolutely! From then on I set out to create an album that was loosely based on a concept, not in a linear fashion from start to finish. But more a theme of clouds, dust, particles, waves of distortion, you know? And how that sound can too be beautiful in the same way stereotypical orchestral music is.” He did quite an impressive job at that if you ask us.
“I experimented with different types of distortion and saturation, adding to certain frequency bands or automating the distortion in and out. I managed to create some really cool effects I’d not heard before. The actual aesthetic of the music almost became more important than the individual melodies and instruments. It took a few months to be happy with the collection of tracks I had and not feel like I had more to explore.”
#Since you put so much work into this album, are there any particular tracks on it that you’re most proud of?
“Wow, let me think for a moment.”
#We know it’s a bit tricky so take your time.
“In terms of a favorite track, or track I’m most proud of, it’s hard to say. It’s more a sound I created that I’m most proud of, more than a single piece. I managed to create a sort of wave-like sound by adding distortion to only the really high frequencies. I also added a long delay and some reverb and accidentally stumbled upon this beautiful washing wave-like distortion effect which worked so well with the strings. It’s genuinely hard to pick a favorite as they all have things I love in them equally! You could totally feel his passion and love for his work through his words. That’s the type of artist we like and admire.
#Tell us a bit more about the musical inspirations that influenced this album.
“I really tried to specifically spend time trying to make sounds I’d not heard before. Of course, I’m using orchestral instruments but I tried to mask them in a way that was unique. I’m a huge fan of hybrid music. Music that uses elements from various styles to create a blend that is original. Or, well, as original as can be.“ What can we say, his album sure is original, no doubt.
“Producers such as Ludwig Goransson who blended trap and dance elements with orchestral instruments in his score for the movie ‘Tenet’ are super inspirational and interesting to me. I really thought the blend worked so well. He also managed to create some really cool sounds through sheer time spent experimenting with different sound design techniques both in and out of the computer, so I tried to mimic something like that in Beautiful Distortion.”
#Maybe we’ll see your music in the next Hollywood blockbuster, who knows.
“Who knows indeed.” – he continued. “I am also influenced by non-film, tv, media music, regular chart artists, or lesser-known more experimental solo artists or bands. It tends not to be a specific person and more a sound I think is cool. Whether that’s melodically, rhythmically, or anything else. Oh and I do get A LOT of inspiration and development of ideas from Youtube bedroom producers, whose names I don’t know as it’s usually a suggested video of a person I’m not subscribed to that Youtube thinks I’ll like, which I usually do!” We’ve all been there, right? Lost in the depth of youtube videos at 4am. Even if for me it usually is funny cat videos.
“I also get a lot of drive from mixing engineers and traditional studio producers as well as beatmakers. I care a lot about how my music sounds, so I do mix and master all my music myself. Big names such as Dave Pensado, Chris and Tom Lord Alge, Bob Clearmountain, or Eric Valentine inspire me to make my music sound good sonically as well as being composed well.”
#We know all this process is quite draining and sometimes it takes a toll on creativity and inspiration. How do you fill your inspiration back up?
“I tend to get my inspiration for starting a track from interesting and unique sounds. I very rarely use an instrument, whether acoustic or virtual, in a generic way. Instead, I always try to add some element of sound design or manipulation to make the sound unique, or I create my own sounds. This process leads to inspiration for starting a track in which I can use that sound in some interesting way.” – he started.
“With each piece of music I compose, I try to imagine a world for it. The story, or the theme that it represents. It helps me so very much to do this. As opposed to sitting down and trying to write a ‘scary’ track or a ‘happy’ track. An example of this technique being used is a recent album I finished in the style of ‘Cinematic Trap’. The idea, or more accurately limitation, of creating the music was that it had to evoke feelings and thoughts of an apocalyptic landscape. A world in which humans have succumbed to the coronavirus using instruments and sounds that reflected this idea. But the idea was also that humans lived in a simulation that was bugging out and crumbling, resulting in the crazy year that was 2020.”
#Quite the crazy idea you got there.
He laughed and then said: “It’s an odd idea but it truly helped me to compose music I felt fit the theme. It also helped me to compose it quickly and creatively. Another similar technique I employ for actually getting through the process of writing music, rather than just staring at the screen blankly, is to decide on a limited number of instruments, or only a certain type of instrument such as stringed or wind, or solely analog synths, etc. Then try to write something I like using only those sounds. It forces me to be creative and not to create habits in which I rely on the same sounds and processes over and over.” You can always find new ways to be creative, that’s for sure.
“I’ve also recently stopped using templates in Logic Pro like pre-loaded reverbs, delays, distortions, or pre-loaded instruments such as strings, piano, drums, and more. I start with a blank project and load plug-ins and effects as I go. Again this forces me to use new sounds and not rely on the same old tricks that I know I like the sound of.”– he then finished commenting.
#Thanks a lot for the insight Ash, one last question. What’s your favorite use of music in a film or TV show?
“I think I have to mention Ludwig Goransson’s score for ‘Tenet’ again. It just is an incredible use of creative music in a movie. I don’t tend to have favorites, just whatever I like at the time. I can’t recall ever hearing a sidechain compressor used more in a score than ‘Tenet’, as well as many lead synth dance type sounds. But it added to the drama and tension of the score and enhanced the world within ‘Tenet’ greatly. Another amazing score composed in recent years is Hans Zimmer’s score for ‘Interstellar’. The use of the huge sounding organ just blew me away, no pun intended – nice one Ash – and left me amazed for days after hearing it soaring out of the cinema speakers.“
Well, that’s it for now. We hope you enjoyed getting to know a little bit more about who’s the artist known as Ash Holbrook. We have no doubt that he will keep exploring new sounds and finding amazing new ways of innovating. If you want to hear more of his work, check out his Instagram or his Soundcloud. See you next time!