Whether they’re a gear nerd or a gear noob, the gear an artist uses has a huge impact on their signature sound. With My Gear, Noisegate picks the brains of exciting artists for a behind-the-scenes scoop on their musical setup. Press Roll are a duo who perform tunes carved from crate digging through jazz and funk records, electronic beats and bass lines, melded with live trumpet, Rhodes keys and guitar. We chatted with Martin Emo about bringing Press Roll’s new album Text Mi Amor together.
Hey Martin, so what’s the key piece of the puzzle in your music making endeavors?
Ableton Live. I know it’s somewhat cliché, but it changed what I do as a musician, and what I do with my high school music students. I’ve got a Classical Music degree, but have gone pretty deep into most DAWs due to various jobs — retail, university, studio, schools — and Ableton Live is actually very different from the others.
I remember seeing a performance with Monolake – Robert Henke and Gerhard Behles, who founded Ableton, perform at my University Art gallery back in the early 2000s in NZ, it blew my mind with what they were doing on G3 Powerbooks, and an early version of Ableton Live.
How has it influenced your songwriting process?
Seeing Ableton Live, a DAW, as an instrument in itself, has completely changed how I view the compositional process. The composing and performing lines are now blurred. It took three years to write the album, we both have busy lives. But we’d come into the studio every Thursday, me with some vinyl from my jazz/funk collection, Ryan with tunes he’s been spinning as Serpico Beats, and we’d spend the first part of our session playing tracks to each other. One of us might hear a track and go,”yeah, lets write something with a bass groove like that.” We had recordings sitting in a folder called “funk guitar groove for later” or similar, DAWs allow you to do that, create a pool of recordings to drop in to different songs/tempos.
Has it affected your live shows for the better?
Both Ableton Live and the Push 2 certainly have. It’s not really a version 2 of a the Push, it’s like a version 10. The screen and the new buttons, means I don’t need to look at my laptop constantly. I’m really happy with working with it. Our first gig was with an Akai MPC2000 sampler, some synths, trumpet, Serato, guitar – this progressed to Maschine Mk2 and standalone software with Serato/guitar into our current setup, which is 1 laptop with Ableton Live and a Push 2, synced to a 2nd laptop running Maschine standalone, with a Maschine Mk3. Still space for guitar and trumpet, but gives each of us that flexibility to add in things.
What makes you keep coming back to Ableton Live?
The laptop and controller are my instrument. You need to practice it like a traditional instrument, keep using it, learning, rehearsing, practicing it. Press Roll is a live duo that wouldn’t exist in the same way without Ableton Live, or without Ryan’s mean guitar chops and production knowledge.
Are you a gear hoarder or do you tend to gravitate towards single bits of gear for long periods of time?
I was a hoarder of odds and ends of cables until my wife and I went and volunteered in Nicaragua for a while, so that helped cleanse me of that (and a bunch of vintage synths). I’ve actually become a fan of what I call gateway instruments. Things that help bridge the gap. Buying a 2nd hand Maschine Mk2 helped my songwriting, and was a great help in deciding to jump 100% into Ableton Live and Push.
I’ve actually got the same Trumpet my parents bought for me when I was in my final year of high school. Last year, I got it serviced for the first time. It came back like a brand new instrument, smooth valves and the air just flowed through it.
What’s in the foreseeable future for you?
Getting the Text Mi Amor Press Roll album into the hands and ears of people! Looking for more slots in the summer for festivals and gigs. Both Ryan and I have spent time in Australia but never performing as Press Roll, so it would be great to do that in 2019 or 2020. Keep an eye on our social media handles for updates, and PM us if you want us to play somewhere, you never know if you don’t ask.
Are you an Ableton Live user? We’ve got a bunch of free Ableton Live rack downloads up for grabs! Check ’em out!