Q+A: 5 minutes with Adam Harpaz and Pastel Jungle

The new collaboration between songwriter Adam Harpaz and producer Pastel Jungle is the product of a serendipitous meeting of sorts. Titled ‘Other Than Orange’, the record came about from a chance encounter. Adam followed his muse, without prior consideration, from Sydney to Byron Bay, Australia where he met the British producer Pastel Jungle who did precisely the same thing, packed his bag and chased inspiration all the way from Chichester, UK

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The free spirit seems to have possessed both musicians, being that they have one important thing in common: a yearning for an almost nomadic lifestyle, where music takes priority and creativity is the path. It is in this spirit that ‘Other Than Orange’ was composed. With such interesting backgrounds, we asked both artists to tell us more about themselves:

Set the tone for us. Why the arts?

Adam Harpaz: It sounds cliché but I believe that if art comes from a pure place, it’s not something that you choose, it’s something that chooses you. Truly, it’s simultaneously the biggest blessing and the biggest curse, most of the time a blessing.

Pastel Jungle: For me, it’s never not been about the arts.  I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by music. It sounds cliché I know but my obsession with music especially over the last couple of years seems to be so much more analytical; this doesn’t mean I ever sacrifice that organic love for something creative that most musicians share,  but I struggle to listen to a song without wanting to dissect it. Without wanting to pick apart each individual line and make my own conclusions or how the artists made those decisions and why, or question whether I truly believe the artist made those decisions consciously at all. There’s nothing in the world that still brings me the same level of exhilaration as it did when I first dived into it. I’d even say, as I become a better writer and producer and solidify my stylistic influences more, that sensation becomes stronger. Music has so much to give, and I plan on never letting go of that.

Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?

Adam Harpaz: Because I approach music from a singer/songwriter background, the idea/message of the song arrives first and everything is built around that.

Pastel Jungle: I’d like to think they’re the same thing really. I’m often not around a computer when I get ideas so I do my best to hum them into a phone recording for later, yet I always end up recording a few different parts. The feel of the idea and how different instruments will work together to create the sound I can hear in my head is just as important as the idea itself. Honestly, I find it quite tough to replicate in a vocal recording and even in the studio most times exactly what I hear in my head. It’s already a completed outfit when the idea hits. Of course the sound tends to evolve more than the idea during the creative process, though.

Does your material feature any collaborations?

Adam Harpaz: Yes, the new song ‘Other Than Orange’ with Pastel Jungle.

Pastel Jungle: Apart from having a friend rap on an older track (one I’m looking to take down as It doesn’t represent me as an artist well anymore) ‘Other Than Orange’ is my first collaboration. As I mentioned earlier, my ideas are so extensive and specific when I have them that I tend to be a bit of a control freak in the studio. Collaborating has always been challenging for me. With Adam, however, everything was just so harmonious, the pockets of writer’s block I usually wallow in for a while when writing alone were welcomely filled with Adam’s input. It never felt like we were battling for two different versions of the track. We both lack what the other has, and it feels like a perfect match.

What’s on your current playlist?

Adam Harpaz: Kings of Convenience, Jose González, Arctic Monkeys.

Pastel Jungle: Oh heaps of Parcels for sure. I can definitely say I’m addicted to them. Men I Trust is another big one. Recently I’ve gotten into Peach Pit, Butter Bath, KESMAR and Velvet Trip a lot too. sir Was, PREP, Mako Road, Foxwarren, Spacey Jane, The Marías, and Far Caspian are all other honourable mentions. 

Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.

Adam Harpaz: I think what draws people to my live performances is the fact I often appear to be comfortable on the edge of control, and my approach to live performance is objectively random and unique… a lot of the time I don’t even know what I’m going to do next chord-wise or vocal melody-wise… It’s a fun approach that keeps things interesting.

Pastel Jungle: I’ve never actually performed live with my own music, which is a bit unorthodox I know. I’m a drummer first and foremost so hiding behind a kit was my go-to during previous gigs. I’ve found I so much more enjoy the production side of the industry though, being able to deliver the ideas exactly as I hear them with my own influence on each part is really important to me (control freak, I know).

What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?

Adam Harpaz: Weird fretting shapes on the guitar as well as drop tuning for some interesting results.

Pastel Jungle: Spacial elements have got to be the biggest. I’ve recently been trying to design my own rooms on a CLA reverb plugin to replicate the sound of my favourite artists’ studios. I also really enjoy using wacky delays with automated increases or decreases of delay tempo to get a kind of pitch-shifted riser-type effect out of a vocal line I like. We do this in ‘Other Than Orange’ in the first verse. The vocal tracks before the line ‘again’ are hard-panned L + R with delays that ramp up in speed and volume to a then centred and doubled line ‘again’. 

The amount of vocal takes and their place in the sonic space are really important to me too. I’ll often record a whole song in my standard voice, head voice, and falsetto and layer them all in accordance with their pitch range. I do the same with my kicks and snares, making sure every track really owns its own frequency range and nothing gets in the way. I definitely need more practice to perfect this, but I feel it brings a much bigger sound without having to ruin sounds with too much modulation.

This recent track though was a lot rawer than others I had done. That’s a result of Adam’s stylistic influence and it’s been really nice because I actually find it more accurately represents my personal influences on my music from other artists I listen to. When you get really interested in the producing/mixing side of music, it’s easy to get carried away with plugins. 

Take us through a day in the recording studio.

Adam Harpaz: When I’m by myself with no pressure for a specified outcome, 11 – 3 or 5 pm, getting experimental, and the time goes so fast. If I’m working with clients or trying to really get something done, very structured 2-hour blocks (maximum 8 hrs in a day).

Pastel Jungle: My studio has always been my bedroom, which means everything is usually already set up. Tea and water are a must because I probably will forget to eat or drink for the rest of the session. I’ll have already laid down a quick three-track idea I want to work on earlier and get straight to work on recording a bass for tracking. Then keys will take a good amount of time as they’ll probably stay the same throughout the process, keeps it more raw that way. I’ll then record drums through an incredible drum plugin I have called Addictive Drums 2, making sure to fill the gaps realistically. I’ll usually play the drums out fully on whatever I can in the room and then listen to that reference whilst tracking each individual piece of the kit just to make sure It’s exactly as I would play it in real life. Then I’ll spend the majority of the time forming different sections and the structure of the song, aiming to wait to add further instrumentation until I can hear a gap where I feel it’s needed. (Also a skill I’m actively trying to improve). Lastly comes vocal melodies and lyrics, I never know what the track will be about until I have the full sound. It doesn’t make sense to me to not want to make lyric/melody writing and music production as harmonious as possible. I’ll usually leave the track at least a week before I start to think about mixing, giving myself as much time as possible to recalibrate my ears and come back to the studio with a fresh perspective.

Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?

Adam Harpaz: Not really… it’s just what I was always most naturally talented at so it made sense.

Pastel Jungle: As soon as I played my first cover of Green Day back in primary school! It has never not been something I want to do. Why wouldn’t it be?! I honestly find it hard to understand how you wouldn’t want to work in the industry. As I’ve gotten older the harsher reality of the difficulties of making it as a musician have definitely reared their ugly heads, but I just can’t imagine not trying to make a career out of something I’m this obsessed with, especially when it’s this fun.

What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?

Adam Harpaz: Warm tea of ginger, honey, and lemon.

Pastel Jungle: The only three things I can really remember are a setlist (terrible memory), a few extra pairs of sticks, and a big ol’ bottle of water. What more do you need?  

Any emerging artists on your radar?

Adam Harpaz: Nick Cunningham.

Pastel Jungle: I’ve gotten into Courrier Sud recently, gives me those Dayglow vibes. Oscar Anton is another who’s doing quite well now, and Velvet Trip I’ve seen a few times around the East coast NSW, and I’ll be surprised if they don’t blow up soon. Really cool psychedelic-influenced sound.

What gets your creative juices flowing?

Adam Harpaz: A nice morning in nature (ocean, bush walk), some great food and I’m ready to go (I’m most creative 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. I’ve found).

Pastel Jungle: Honestly, working another job. I get my best ideas when I’m away from the studio annoyingly. As soon as I’m away from music and I listen to another song I can’t just enjoy it. I’ll hear a guitar riff or vocal line that I love, maybe an interesting rhythm or beat and the creative urge is instantaneous. When I’m in the studio having someone else to jam with is definitely a big help. Working with Adam on this last track was so smooth, rarely were there moments where we were stuck for ideas. Keeping that momentum up and constantly bouncing ideas off each other gets the juices flowing more than anything else (especially with Adam because he just gives me constant compliments, and I love the attention). 

Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.

Adam Harpaz: Many guitars, SSL 2+, AKG C214, Logic Pro, Violin Bass, Softube plug-ins.

Pastel Jungle: It’s interesting for me actually as I’ve moved country four times over the last few years and my hardware has always been the first thing up for sale. I’d like to say I’m finally getting settled and the collection is just beginning. I managed to pick up a Hondo Fame vintage bass guitar and restore it which was really cool. They stopped making them a while ago, but it’s a solid build and delivers that heavy warmth you can find in the most recent track. I also picked up an Epiphone special model II guitar which again is an older model that delivers on that vintage warmth. I have the classic Akai MPK Mini MKII of course and, although I upgraded to bigger keys, I always use this for its pads. The response is so much better than a lot of others I’ve tried. I use a Nektar Panorama P6 though for the bulk of my tracking. I can control everything in the project with the key command shortcuts and faders on the controller which makes the process so much easier. 

Software is where I have a real shopping problem! I’ve produced and mixed for a lot of other artists so things like the complete iZotope, Soundtoys, TB Pro Audio, Native Instruments, and Cymatics range are all staples just to name a few. I really love all of the analogue emulations of older gear. Pultech/Puigtech EQs are my go-to for a way more natural curve during the process. U-he’s satin and Baby Audio’s TAIP tape machine emulations find their way onto nearly every track. I’m obsessed with the quality of tape emulation they provide. For someone who has had to work with minimal equipment out of a homestay in Indonesia for a good year, plugins like these are my bread and butter for injecting the track with that humanly imperfect feel. 

The Tal-U-No-LX-V2 is my favourite old-school midi keyboard emulation. Everything sounds so woozy and full of character, especially when paired with XLN-Audio’s RC-20 Retro colour. That lo-fi, wobbly software style is my favourite. I recently got into using Thenatans plugins for the same purpose. 

The only other staple is Addictive Drums 2. It’s an absolute powerhouse of a production tool for someone that doesn’t own a real kit. I’ve spent days just loading in heaps of other samples and creating personalised kits for different sounds I’d like to venture into in the future.

Any side projects you’re working on?

Adam Harpaz: Thinking of starting a band on the side (bet you’ve heard that one before)…Oh! I’m starting a veggie garden, going to grow broccoli and other green things.

Pastel Jungle: Apart from my solo stuff and the track with Adam, not much! We will definitely write together in the future, and we do actually have a jam set up with a couple of other guys in the Byron area with the hopes of putting a four-piece outfit together, looking to explore more with some psychedelic/surf rock vibes. The guitarist we’re planning on working with already has a lead role in a well-established band that’s doing well. 

How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?

Adam Harpaz: When I first entered the industry, I literally had no idea what to expect and knew nothing about the music industry. I just knew I could sing well, write a decent song, and play the guitar relatively well. Nowadays, I feel my guitar playing is quite distinctive/advanced. I now have the ability to produce my own music, and my songwriting is much stronger.

Pastel Jungle: It’s funny because I studied music at University but I’ve learnt so much more in the last couple of years than I did my whole time in the Industry prior. Being limited to working in the box and travelling with minimal equipment taught me how to replicate the best possible version of my own sound through careful crafting and sonic consideration. I had to learn to make up for the lack of live instruments and use plugins/creative techniques to really elevate my sound. Now moving into a more live-tracked style of production, these techniques are allowing me to really isolate and bring shine to each individual element in a song. 

Music is sometimes like a science to me, especially when mixing and so my craft has gotten a lot more precise and methodical. More thought goes into more specific areas of the process with the intention of letting each sound really dominate its own space in a track. I’ve definitely found a lot more solid influences to ground myself in more specific genres. My first several releases were very experimental and relied too heavily on the electronic side of production which just doesn’t align with the type of music I listen to now. There’s definitely a visible link between my personal playlists and the types of tracks I’m writing and showing that, alongside my process, is important to me. 

Break down the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?

Adam Harpaz: Lots of music releases, recording an album in February, touring Europe from July – August, an Australian tour in some form at the end of the year… But perhaps the biggest thing, more consistency on every front.

Pastel Jungle: Definitely more tracks to come with Adam. We’d be silly not to venture further into this collaborative episode in both of our careers. Most likely some larger collaborations in the form of a band. We just need to really feel out the right direction. There are also a lot of tracks I have written for myself that I want to finish and release asap. Finding time to manage it all is the tricky element, but it’s for sure doable. 

I also want to start performing live, with Adam at first as we can aptly support each other as session musicians for our individual work and then hopefully in tandem for the future songs we produce, and of course, if a band does take shape, I’ll be looking to take it to stage fairly quickly. As always though a lot more writing, producing, mixing, and frequent releases.

Famous last words?

Adam Harpaz: I promise!

Pastel Jungle: This is just the beginning friends.

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Image credit: Lisa Mae