Putting out music used to be a fairly straight forward thing in theory. You write music, record it, release it, gig it. But the last decade has seen the rise of a breed — the YouTuber. Adding video to music is obviously nothing new, but solely doing video – not releasing music in the traditional sense – is a fairly new phenomenon. Often these take the form of performances and/or music gear demonstrations, but Little Music Boxes is one channel that’s taking the concept in a fresh direction, combining portable music gear with an artistic vision that has a broad appeal to gear nuts and non-musos alike. We had a chat to Travis, the man behind Little Music Boxes and had him guest program a couple of videos for our Just Sounds series on YouTube.
What inspired you to dedicate a YouTube purely to little music boxes?
The secret is: this isn’t my first YouTube channel. Shhhhh. It’s a long story, but at one point I was running one of the most popular design and coding channels on YT. When I stopped doing that it had over 12 million views. I’m really proud about that, but at the same time, I had a cataclysmic case of burnout toward the end. I started painting and playing my guitar as a sort of therapy. I needed to feel creative and inspired again and music really helped me find that.
One night I was doing dishes and a video popped up in my YouTube recommended feed. It was Spuckfunkel. This dude had 4 Korg Volcas on a table. No words. Just jamming. I was shook. I had never seen anything like that. I had no idea what he was doing. I had messed with Garageband and Gadget on my laptop and I had iMPC on my iPad, but this was different. There were no screens. Just knobs and lights. I started reading the comments, researching all over. I discovered this little community of bedroom beatmakers. I got into lofi hip-hop. Just fell in love again. I was super excited to discover that these little Volca boxes were kind of affordable. I got a Volca Sample first. It’s still the centre of my setup. I don’t think I’ve made a video/song that didn’t involve the sample, haha.
Unusual video locations. (ie. Laying in the middle of a street). What’s the deal?
I like to get out there. yea. I like to play in public, but the funny thing is; it’s all in headphones, no speaker. So people have no idea what is happening. The first time I did that was in Harajuku, Japan – a famously weird and expressive area where the kids hang out and the tourists are all over. I was playing and a bunch of curious kids all gathered around asking questions. I was excited and nervous, but it was a good time. Since then I’ve recorded on airplanes, in the woods, in a swamp, at parks, laying on my stomach in San Francisco Market Street with people stepping over me as I play, I’ve even jammed in the back of an Uber on the way to the airport.
I try to match the location to the emotion of the video. For the video called “Collision”, I was in the back of that Uber. The guy was driving through NY traffic and I was setting up the camera, headphones, recorder, volca sample; and the guy didn’t say anything. The song came after a week of being a little crazy in NY. Meeting new people everywhere I went, really enjoying them, but knowing that I’d never see them again. The video turned out to be about the way’s in which we collide with other people. How they suddenly come into our orbits, and then just as suddenly leave. It seemed really appropriate that the recording was in the back of a cab. He dropped me off and never thought about me again, but for about 40 minutes we had a relationship. I was his responsibility. It’s weird to think about.
You obviously have a lot of love for the Korg Volca series, you’ve got videos featuring the Sample, Bass, Keys, Modular and FM. What would you like to see Korg do next with the Volca series?
I really like the Volcas. I like how they all have their own personalities and voices and quirks. They’re designed really well, functionally, and aesthetically. I love how the Sample takes a lot of visual cues from the MPC 2000, one of the most important samplers in history. Or the Volca FM; how it looks like a bite-sized DX7. The Bass looks like a mini TB-303. And yet – they all fit together as a family. So smart! They are simple. Beautiful. Portable (batteries!). And they sound amazing!
What would I like to see next? I’d like to see a Volca Sample MKII. I know, it’s not that mind-blowing. But the sample was one of the first ones. It’s still my favourite one, but I just got the Volca Drum and it has a lot of improvements to the sequencer and a lot of other great tricks. There are things that could just be dialled in on that little box to make it perfect. And more than 4MB of storage, lol. That is always an issue for me. I max it out for every song.
Other than that, I also like effects pedals; so maybe a sound processing Volca. Haha, I don’t know. I saw someone mock up a cassette 4 track Volca for April Fools this year. No lie, I would have bought that.
A lot of work goes into your videos, and often they have an artistic narrative which is unusual in a gear-focused channel. They’re like cross-over music videos/product demos that non-music gear nuts will also enjoy. How do you approach that aspect?
I think of my videos as a journal of sorts. I make the music based around something that I’m thinking or feeling at the time. Usually in the form of captions. I often like to sample voices. People giving lectures, conversations, or even movie clips. I like that human element. I use those samples to tell the story of what’s happening in my own life.
One of my favourite examples of that was when I found this video on YouTube of this girl in her bedroom reading a poem that she wrote at 2 am. The video had like 30 views at the time. It was beautiful and mysterious, and a little dark. I loved it. I sampled the poem and built a beat around it. I sent it to her and she was thrilled. And it was this magic thing where I don’t know her, I don’t really understand what she was talking about in her poem. I only knew what it meant to me. And through that process, we had this collaboration across time and space. I was in my garage at 2 am a few years after she was in her bedroom at 2 am. But in some way, we were together, sharing what it’s like to be awake when the rest of the world is still and quiet; focusing on the expression and discovery of our inner-selves.
If someone watches one of my videos and says “hey, that’s a good beat” that’s cool. But what they might not understand is that I just told them a few secrets about my life that I’ve never told anyone before. Music has a way of being many different things to many different people. I’m okay with that. But on the same note, I could talk with you for hours about why I chose to record a song about losing your mind next to a river. Things can have deeper meanings and symbols. I like it best when I can tap into that.
Any hints on what’s coming up for Little Music Boxes?
I just sent another YouTuber a 16-minute video where I’m just messing on the volca drum. The plan is that he will sample some parts and put a melody over it and just make it into something bigger. I’m excited to see what he makes of it! Maybe he can give me some melodies to remix if this goes well.
I’m on a bus as I type these answers right now, heading to the mountains. I plan on recording in the forest. I have a few samples that fit the idea of being in “the pines” – if you catch me. I’m always open to new things. I just like the feeling of creation and discovery. So if any of your readers are up for a collaboration; hit me up!