Interview with Carlos Eiene

There really are no words that adequately express just how wonderful the jazz covers of Carlos Eiene (insaneintherainmusic) are. Excellent aural ability, combined with unparalleled creativity and improvisation makes for the best covers of video game music I have ever listened to, by far. I had a fantastic and thought-provoking conversation with the incredibly eloquent musician, who shared many inspiring ideas, including becoming the best you can be, the beautifully reactive nature of jazz, and realizing that nothing is ever going to be perfect.

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How did music first come into your life? What all do you play in terms of instruments, and when and how did you pick up each of them?

Carlos: So I started off on piano, sometime in the second grade—I just graduated high school, for frame of reference. Started in the second grade, mainly self-taught. I pulled out some of the sheet music books that were in the bench of the piano when I got it from my grandparents. And then I taught myself how to read music that way, learned how to read notes and stuff. There were a couple music classes in elementary school… I started playing the clarinet in the fifth grade, purely because one of my friends was playing it, and I wanted to sit next to him in band class. (laughs)

(laughs) That’s a good inspiration!

Carlos: Things grew from there. I played saxophone over the summer fifth grade, first on alto, and then in middle school I somehow ended up on bari—baritone saxophone, because of my band director. And then in high school, I settled on tenor saxophone, which is what I play now. I’m comfortable with that placement.

Cool! So when did you start dong video game music covers?

Carlos: Well. So actually, let me go back before that, just a little bit. Before video game covers, I used to do Minecraft 3D animation tutorials, in middle school. They were really bad… 3D animation is so complicated—I barely knew anything about it, but I thought I was smart enough to teach people about it. But I was in middle school, using my laptop’s onboard microphone. And it was just so terrible… I can’t bear to watch them anymore—they’re still on YouTube. But towards the end of that journey, I uploaded a couple of my first-ever videos of me playing the saxophone on the internet. It was sometime in the eighth grade, spring of 2012. I started insaneintherain music channel—the 3D animation stuff was on an entirely different one. The insaneintherain music channel was started I think September 8th, 2012, so I’ve been doing this almost four years now—quite the journey!

Yeah, so what was the first cover you did, and what inspired you to do it? If you can remember.

Carlos: Oh my gosh… The first one that I ever did on the old YouTube channel, was just me playing the Super Mario Brother main theme, I don’t know why…

Cause it’s a classic—everyone knows it!

Carlos: Yeah, it’s a classic. On the new YouTube channel, I think it was Angry Aztec, from Donkey Kong, 64. I remember I discovered this feature on my electronic piano where they had pre-built drum parts on it. So I found one that sounded like that song, and so I used the pre-built groove and played along with it, and uploaded it to YouTube!

Oh, nice! Awesome!

Carlos: For my first cover, it worked out pretty well. If you want to check it out, it’s still on there—the first video I ever uploaded!

Great! So how do you usually go about arranging and performing the covers, if there is a formula?

Carlos: The process is quite formulaic. Probably the least formulaic part of it though is coming up with a creative idea. The creative process is something I think is very difficult to force out… I’ve had situations where I have a song I want to do, but I don’t know what style to do it in. And it’s so hard for me not to just force myself to write a part. Inevitably I’d be unhappy with that, you know? So usually, I find a song, and then I think of what style I could do it in. Usually I do it in a similar style to another recording I’ve heard in the past… Like I listen to legit jazz records, and I listen to their instrumentation and their style, and sometimes I think “Hm! This sounds like Spear Pillar from Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum!” (laughs) So then I basically juxtapose the styles onto video game music. Of course, I add my own twists. And I’m never going to be able to replicate the style of the legit song perfectly, but I’m happy with that, because it allows me to add my own sound to it.

“I basically juxtapose the styles [of jazz records] onto video game music. Of course, I add my own twists. And I’m never going to be able to replicate the style of the legit song perfectly, but I’m happy with that, because it allows me to add my own sound to it.”

Right, you don’t wanna just copy.

Carlos: Yeah… Although all art… Nothing is original anymore—some people say that. To some extent that’s true. But for the rest of the process, I write a drum part… That’s what I was doing before this call actually! Then I record the piano and bass parts, then saxophone. The order sometimes varies there. I mix it, edit it… Then off to YouTube! That’s really all it takes.

Awesome! Have you dabbled much into composing?

Carlos: I’ve done a couple of original things… Most of it is not on YouTube. There’s one that I did for a final project in my junior year, called “Horizon”. It’s not the best example of an original composition. I’ve always said down the line that I do want to do that sort of thing. But it’s just that people know me as like a video game jazz cover artist. I try to run my channel in a way that I do tracks that I want to but also tracks that I think people will want to listen to, in terms of popularity. And it’s really easy to gauge whether something just completely falls flat. And original compositions… Because they don’t have any prior association with other people, they usually don’t do super well, in terms of viewership.

Aww, okay. So which cover of yours are you most proud of, and why?

Carlos: Hm. I’d have to say… I did a cover back about a year ago, it was Mt. Coronet from Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum. The original song is so mystifying and complex, that I never thought I’d be able to do a cover of it properly, just because it’s so intricate. But a friend of mine challenged me to do it, and I did it in like three days, and it’s one of the best covers that I think I’ve ever done.

Sometimes I go back and listen to my old stuff, and there are certain songs that I know to skip over, just because I’m not happy with them. But that’s one of the few songs that’s stood the test of time for me.

Okay, nice! So which cover was the most different from the others you’ve done, and what did you learn from that piece?

Carlos: Hmm… The first thing that comes to my mind is the Prologue from Firewatch, which is a new game that came out this year. It’s one of the few covers I have that is more atmospheric than anything else—it doesn’t really have a set melody. I’m a big fan of compositions that are melodically-based—that’s what most video game music fans are, I would say, because they can sing along to melodies, you know. But for stuff like this, where it’s hard to sing along to it, it was just a different process. I felt like I was able to change less from the original song, and I just kept it pretty much the same, just on different instruments.

Okay, so what’s one of the most recent musical challenges you’ve come across, and how did you overcome it?

Carlos: I’d say just being able to consistently keep up with having good creative ideas, while still being on a deadline. I’ve held myself to weekly videos for a very long time, and I’m only scaling back now to videos every other week just because of college and things. The hardest part for me is not physically doing the work to put the thing together, but it’s more just having a good idea at the start, that I know will result in a good end product. Especially because you can’t force that stuff out.

Yeah, exactly. Okay, so what goals or aspirations do you have as a musician? Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

Carlos: Hm. There are a lot of goals… One of my long-time goals has been to get that Silver Play Button on YouTube. That’s not necessarily a goal as a musician, but it’s like an overall popularity kind of thing. Musically, I just want to keep improving. I’m not really trying to compare myself to anybody else, I’m just trying to become the best individual musician I can.

Yeah, that’s good.

Carlos: I want to do an album… All of my music is pretty much done with a computer, but I want to do an album of stuff with real people for once. The hard part is finding people who that good at their instrument, and also interested in video game music. And also the logistics of recording them is difficult… But that’s something I would like to do in the future. And I think because jazz is a genre that is very conducive to reacting to other people as they’re playing, that’s difficult to do that with a computer. But with live performance, you can instantaneously react to other people, and that makes the music so much more dynamic, and more true to the nature of what jazz is supposed to be. Wow… That was a good answer! Good job! (laughs)

“Because jazz is a genre that is very conducive to reacting to other people as they’re playing, that’s difficult to do that with a computer. But with live performance, you can instantaneously react to other people, and that makes the music so much more dynamic, and more true to the nature of what jazz is supposed to be.”

(laughs) Yeah! So what’s one rule that you like to live by?

Carlos: A rule… Hm. Nothing is ever going to be perfect. I use that mostly in terms of mixing, because in mixing and I guess performing, there’s just an infinite ceiling as to what you can do. At some point you just have to say this is good enough for what I can do now, and just put it out in the world. I could spend several days mixing the audio of a cover, and not being happy with it, and continuously working on it. And while it would get better, there’s just a point where it’s not really worth it working on that same thing. And that you just have to settle with it, and push it out into the world.

“Nothing is ever going to be perfect. … There’s just an infinite ceiling as to what you can do. At some point you just have to say this is good enough for what I can do now, an djust put it out into the world.”

Yeah, I think that applies to a lot of different things. Cool, so I have a list of rapid-fire questions. Give short answers as quickly as possible! You ready?

Carlos: Okay, okay.

Favorite video game protagonist?

Carlos: Let’s go with Mega Man from MegaMan Battle Network!

Favorite video game animal or creature?

Carlos: Oh, this is hard… I’ll go with K.K. Slider, the dog.

Favorite character theme!

Carlos: I’ll have to say Wally’s Theme, from Pokémon OR/AS.

All right, favorite arcade game!

Carlos: The original Donkey Kong!

Favorite battle theme!

Carlos: The Team Plasma grunt battle, from Gen V.

Yes!! Da-na-Na-na-Na-na-Na-na DUN. DUN. DING! Oh my gosh, that’s like my favorite Pokémon game. (laughs) Okay, favorite time signature!

Carlos: Let’s go with 7/8.

Nice. Favorite Pokémon!

Carlos: Omastar!

Okay! If you could make a video game world inside of any instrument, which instrument would you want to live in?

Carlos: Like, an instrument? And you have a game set inside that instrument!?

Yes! And you’re a little tiny person inside of this instrument!

Carlos: Oh, it would have to be a piano! Imagine living inside a piano, and all those strings… You could have like, I don’t know, trains going along all the strings. And there would be earthquakes if someone played it. And it’s a big space, so you could have lots of people in it! (laughs)

Yeah! Pick one: physical strength, magic, or defense?

Carlos: Magic!

Okay, nice. If you had to make a weapon out of any instrument, which instrument would you choose?

Carlos: Let’s go with a bassoon! You could whack people with that!

(laughs) Nice, that’s a good one! If you could befriend any video game antagonist, would you choose? Which bad guy would be your buddy?

Carlos: How about Shadow the Hedgehog.

Okay, cool! End of rapid-fire questions! (laughs) All right, so what are some of your future plans? What are you working on now?

Carlos: Future plans… I’m working on an album of Pokémon music, set to release the end of September. This isn’t officially announced yet, but it’ll give people incentive to check this out! What else am I working on… Other than that, transitioning to college, figuring out how I’m gonna record stuff when I get to college.

Right. Are you gonna do anything with music?

Carlos: Yeah, I’m studying music at the Berklee College of Music.

Oh, nice! Someone else I interviewed is going there.

Carlos: Oh, really? Interesting. You pick the right people then! (laughs)

Yeah! (laughs)

Carlos: Other than that… I don’t know, just getting better, practicing a lot. Oh, playing Pokémon GO! a lot. It’s motivating… I try to go on a run like at least three times a week, but I’ve gone for the past three days. (laughs) I’ve changed my running route to go past places with lots of Pokéstops. There’s this trail that I go on, and every single trail marker is a Pokéstop, so every 10th of a mile I get something. That’s awesome!

Yeah, cool! Well those are all the questions I have. Any final thoughts?

Carlos: Um… I don’t know. Follow your dreams? (laughs) I always try to encourage people to start YouTube channels. If you’re reading this, and you’re someone who wants to do something similar to what I do, don’t worry too much about the gear you have, or your skills at the moment. Putting something out there is better than not putting something out there at all—just like I said earlier, it’s never gonna be perfect. If you’re too worried, maybe you think you’re not good enough, or you think you’ll never be able to do justice to a song because it’s too good and your skills aren’t good enough, don’t worry about it. Just do it, you can always redo songs later—there’s no problems with that.

Yeah, awesome.

Carlos: Yeah, more people are great. The VGM community is always growing. It’s one of the nicest places on the internet! Everybody is so friendly to each other, and we’re always looking for people to collaborate with, and just have a good time, playing music from our favorite games!

Yeah! Well awesome, cool! Thank you so much!

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“The VGM community is always growing. It’s one of the nicest places on the internet! Everybody is so friendly to each other, and we’re always looking for people to collaborate with, and just have a good time, playing music from our favorite games!”

Check out Carlos’s YouTube channel, where you’ll find a huge array of impressive video game jazz covers!

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