Sporting Nintendo-projection walls, glow sticks, cheap neon sunglasses, and a packed house, this session definitely tested the limits of our little SoHo studio at The Music Playground. Eight Bit Tiger is a Swedish/American duo, comprised of the Widman brothers Erik and Kent, which started as a side project to a rock band, but has morphed into something fresh, energized, and downright fun. They are half party band, half synth-songwriters, and all around feel-good music. Their first album, Parallel Synchronized Randomness is full of poppy goodness anchored by disco bass lines from the first track to the last. After our electrofunk throwdown, we had the chance to talk to Eight Bit Tiger about their recording process, being in a band as brothers, and more…
Do you record albums all at once or as you go?
Erik Widman: We record by ourselves, all our stuff. We have our own little studio.
Kent Widman: We used to do more recording sessions. We would go somewhere and record half the record at a time. But now, we just do it as we go.
EW: Yeah, we use less and less acoustic instruments, so why get someone else to do it?
You’ve said that you’re changing to a more electronic sound from your indie rock roots. Are the new songs reflective of that?
EW: Yeah. It’s also out of practicality too. I just moved to Sweden and I can’t take too much shit with me. I used to be guitar player but now…I have a little mini-controller and computer and you do whatever you can with what you have, you know?
What has changed about the band now that Erik is in Sweden and Kent is back in Chicago?
EW: Well, what we’ve been doing with these new songs is that Kent has this big vintage synth collection, and I write midi and I send the midi to him and say, “Make good sounds for this.”
What’s your vintage synth collection?
KW: It’s a Mini-Moog Voyager…I have a Korg Mono/Poly, Juno-106…then I have the Prophet 08. So, it’s not one hundred percent all vintage but anything that can make vintage sounds. That’s the thing. Our sound is a hybrid between vintage and new electronic synths.
EW: I think we used to use more ‘70s and ‘80s kind of sounds but now we’re mixing it up with more modern sounds…Trying to make it a little more dance clubby. So, I think the next record is one that you can play in the clubs and people can DJ with.
So that’s definitely different from previous recordings.
EW: We used to do more of a hybrid between indie rock and dance music. The problem with that is that it’s too indie rock to where you can’t play it in a club. So now we’re saying, “Fuck it, we’re going to focus on one and go for it.”
We’ve had a lot of bands in here, and a lot of them grew up together. They say that closeness helps with the songwriting and onstage chemistry. You guys are brothers. That has to be another level of communication and closeness. How does that influence the way you write songs, or your sound in general?
EW: I think we know what to expect from each other and we offer different things. So, I write more poppy and melodic, and think more about vocals and Kent’s more of a rhythm guy, you know, funky bassist. So, he definitely writes a lot more rhythmic stuff and rhythmic bass lines. All the instrumentals we played tonight were written by Kent, and the melodic songs were written by me. We complement each other. He shows me what he has, hands it off to me, and I add more melodic elements. I give him what I have and he adds more percussive elements to it.
KW: I’ve been playing with Erik for half my life. Ever since we were 15. I’m 28 now, so we know what to expect from each other but we push each other pretty hard, and we pretty much say, “Oh, this sucks. change it”.
EW: We don’t have to worry about feelings. We just say, “That’s a bad idea. Drop it. Let’s move on”. Or, “That’s a great idea’. We know that we don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings. We’re beyond that, where we can accept that every song we write isn’t amazing.
So it seems like Kent on rhythm and Erik on melody is a perfect combination. How do you think that came to be? Kent, were you always more geared towards the rhythm section?
EW: He’s a black guy underneath his white, pasty skin. (laughs)
KW: What happened was I went through a phase where I listened to a lot of ABBA records to tell you the truth (laughs).
EW: They did a lot of funky stuff on synthesizers. Kent figured out how to do the same thing, but on bass. I listen to a lot of Motown, and I still do. It’s like my favorite stuff to listen to.
Do you think your music translates well to your Swedish audience?
EW: I think so. That’s why we’ve moved away from the rock and roll, guitar and bass setup and moved more to computers and DJ hybrid setups to play more clubs, because there’s a lot more clubs in Sweden and Europe.
KW: Even the music though, it’s different from what they’re used to. It’s definitely got a lot of American influences.
EW: I think they’re going to like it…America has these extremes; extreme wealth, extreme poverty, extreme characters and personalities, and Sweden’s just kind of like down the middle. And they need more extremes. I think that’s exotic to them.
What would be extreme about your music to them?
EW: It’s more about the live show, the way you can interact with the crowd.
KW: DJs are sort of safe, and it’s not interactive.
EW: The DJs look different, they’re more conservative than people I’m friends with in Chicago. I have crazy-ass psychotic DJ friends who are a lot of fun. And Sweden needs more extremes like that, more extreme personalities.
Now that you guys are going electronic, are you going to rein in the live element of what you do?
KW: I want to try to keep some of the live. It’s different. What I do is load all my gear, sample it, record it, into my keyboard, and either I use that or I use my bass. I do like the performance aspect, so I want to keep it live to a certain extent. It’s more exciting.
EW: When we produce music now, we’re always thinking of different ways to do things, like, incorrectly. Like sample all the notes on a guitar and then play the chords on a synthesizer instead of playing them on a guitar and trying to get these fucked up, wrong sounding things. That’s how we wrote the song “Training Wheels” on our last record, just sampled all the notes on a bass and started programming these insane superhuman bass parts that you can’t play.
KW: And then we realized Trilian was out. (laughs) Someone had already done this, but it’s not the same at all.