HMLTD: Creating the World’s First Customizable NFT Pop Song
The avant-garde London band shares their love for experimentation, their fans and each other in this interview for their premiere of “Leaving”.
For the asyncedition article, click here.
For the full transcript, see below.
Rare Digital Bird, Episode 7
Interview with HMLTD about musicians making money, the many facets of their world’s 1st customizable pop song NFT “Leaving” to be released April 26th, NFT ecological concerns, the importance of their fans & more.
This pioneering, experimental London-based band of 5 — formed in 2015 — experienced a very rough start but are all the better for it. These growing pains as musicians have made their work richer and the bandmates closer. Every genre of music is potentially on their palette, every musical stroke skillfully blended and every visual experience is created with intent. We dive deep in this interview, allowing Henry, Duc & Achilleas’ personalities to really shine through.
ASYNC ART https://edition.async.art/blog/progra...
Table of Contents
0:00:00 Coming Up!
0:03:11 What’s Rare Digital Bird?
0:03:40 What’s happening in the blockchain music world?
0:06:34 What is Async.Art & programmable music?
0:07:16 Who is London band, HMLTD?
0:09:11 Interview begins
0:10:27 Frontman & vocals for HMLTD, Henry Spychalski, introduces the band & at least one positive quality each one has
0:12:24 Guitarist & producer for HMLTD, Duc Peterman, and drummer Achilleas Sarantaris say positive things about Henry
0:13:58 Henry, Achilleas & Duc share endearing & personal stories about how they got into music
0:19:13 Was there a lot of pushing & pulling in the making of “Leaving”?
0:22:43 Having observed the inner growth and maturation of HMLTD from the break-up with Sony and cancel culture, and now not being able to do any of your live immersive shows to support the debut album, West of Eden — I’m curious to know how you all dealt with the pandemic?
0:28:53 How does it feel to be the first band to create a programmable song (a layered NFT)?
0:36:45 The story, process, meaning, challenges and discoveries behind the song “Leaving”, and its social implications
0:49:20 The album cover artwork, created by Mike Raymond, is programmable and changes with the music as well
0:52:37 Would you create another programmable musical work? How would you go about it?
0:58:02 The story behind HMLTD connecting with Async & a laymen’s explanation of crypto terms.
01:02:28 Thoughts regarding the hype in the crypto creative space over NFTs & more laymen’s terms
01:06:45 How HMLTD helps fans continue a sense of belonging while HMLTD explores the possibilities of the blockchain world.
01:11:45 Advice to musicians thinking about entering the world of crypto music 01:16:08 The practical way to push the technology and creativity forward
01:20:08 HMLTD would love to see more blockchain devs and music platforms initiating contact with musicians who are not yet involved in the blockchain space.
01:22:02 HMLTD’s upcoming projects and shows, including a very ambitiously immersive London show in the fall, their 2nd album
01:23:32 We talk about LARPing, and Achilleas’ attempts a LARPing joke.
01:24:32 Henry decides NOT to share when the next album is going to come out but Henry & Duc share the percentage of completion
01:25:45 Achilleas, the human calculator, kind of
01:26:18 Henry shares a story about Achilleas’ tendency towards exaggeration and hyperbole.
01:28:07 Bolfest & top places that HMLTD is popular
01:29:11 HMLTD’s fight with Suicide Silence
01:30:55 Henry’s special message to HMLTD’s fans
01:31:12 Achilleas’ thoughts on the ecological impact of NFTs, and Duc’s conclusion on who is the worst.
01:34:33 Where can people find HMLTD?
You can read all this, or you can click HERE instead for Episode 7 of the “Rare Digital Bird” Series — with closed captioning!
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[00:03:11] What’s Rare Digital Bird?
Hey, peeps! What’s up? I’m Ann Marie Alanes, and this is Rare Digital Bird — a series about artists, their creations, and their experiences — both good and bad — using blockchain technology.
In Episode 6, we discussed being mindful of those creating hype in the NFT space, who’s actually making a difference for crypto artists, and finding the right people for guidance in the crypto art community. Guide your cursor up here for the link to Episode 6.
[00:03:40] What’s happening in the blockchain music world?
Now, I’m sure by now, everyone has heard of crypto art. But art comes in various forms. While, to date, crypto art has mostly been focused on visual art, today I want to bring you into the growing world of how blockchain is being used to benefit musicians. And to tell you the truth, the growth has been very slow in the fast world of NFTs. Platforms that are purely crypto music-centric haven’t seemed to have moved this fast as their visual counterparts. One of the oldest projects in blockchain music, Ujo, partnered with Grammy-winning artist, Imogen Heap, to sell her single “Tiny Human” to 140 people for ETH, equivalent to a total of $133.20, six years ago. It was a cool experiment, but not everything remained cool, Ujo dealt with record labels who seemed to be excited to work with them to build this new future for music artists, but in the end, threatened to sue if any music under their copyright was uploaded to Ujo’s platform.
Jesse Grushack, Ujo’s co-founder, has also readjusted his focus from Ujo to Audius as an advisor. Audius seems to take a more hands-off approach to uploaded music that’s copyrighted, like Ed Sheeran and Dua Lipa, and remixes, including the likes of Kanye and Cardi B, leaving it to the uploader or community to decide on what’s to be done regarding copyright infringements. Not sure how that will end. Audius does seem to be the only blockchain music streaming platform with life. An active community and a team that ensures that there are activities for its members, like happy hours and listening parties. However, since specifying an artist payment plan on Twitter in March of 2020, income from streaming has yet to be seen, and they haven’t been very transparent about their progress. However, they have managed to at least keep their top 10,000 most active artists on their platform happy with an air drop of 15 million audio tokens back in October of 2020. It’s certainly an incentive for their top artists to keep the faith for actual streaming income in - 2021? We shall see.
Now, if you’re an artist who’s considering exploring the crypto art world, or if you’re a blockchain dev interested in creating something better that artists will want to use, consider clicking on the subscribe button and the notification bell.
To continue, while music streaming blockchain sites seem to be tangling themselves into the messier parts of the legacy music industry’s web, independent crypto music artists seemed to have found success on the more visually oriented NFT platforms, posting their music for sale along with the visual element of posting music videos. And crypto collectors are buying. If this is where musicians are seeing success, perhaps it’s NFT platforms, not streaming platforms, that are a good foundation for future crypto music platforms to build on.
[00:06:34] What is Async.art & programmable music?
One such platform would be Async.art. Async.art is a digital platform for art-made dynamic without the need for coding knowledge. Changes are based on data, like statistics and time. The artist provides the menus of changes, and the collectors of each of the arts’ layers can customize from their menu, changing the look of the overall piece. Well, now, Async is offering music in that same vein. Async music is composed of a single master track NFT and multiple stem NFTs, just like a programmable artwork. Stem NFTs are effectively the same as layer NFTs. They have the ability to change what the current master track both looks and sounds like.
[00:07:16] Who is London band, HMLTD?
Which brings me to our guest, London band, HMLTD, who I am super honored to have on today’s show. This avant-garde band of five, first formed in 2015, is not only a spectacle to your ears, but a spectacle to your eyes, mind, and heart. Vogue called them a glam guitar act tearing up the rulebook in style. And their shows are colorful and immersive, not only belting their message and ideologies, but visually surrounding and perhaps shocking their fans with them as well. Front man Henry Spychalski’s lyrical writing includes cultural references made even richer with obscure Easter eggs of information in lyrics like “Two girls spin around a Mobius strip club” in the song “The West Is Dead,” and “Buy the Oxford guide to suicide, retreat inside your head” in the song “Flex.”
Self-proclaimed to be a voice of outcasts for outcasts, naturally they don’t play by the rules. They’re on this experimental journey where creativity knows no bounds. You’ll hear later in this interview the process of creating “Mikey’s Song.” Henry names off different genres like Afro Bashment, in which the song is created, even mentioning the microgenre of hyperpop and PC music before deciding on the final synth-pop indie ballad version. And it’s amazing to me the fluidity by which their producer and guitarist Duc Peterman melds the sounds of spaghetti westerns, trap, and post-punk artfully within one musical piece, “To the Door.”
Knowing all of this, it’s not surprising that they would dive deep into the experimental world of blockchain. After dropping their debut album “West of Eden” just before the start of the pandemic, it was their drummer Achilleas Sarantaris who reached out to Async.art long before Async.art ever publicly announced any endeavors concerning music. A year later, they’ve arrived with their new programmable and customizable song, “Leaving.”
[00:09:11] Interview begins
Achilleas Sarantaris (AS): Hello.
Ann Marie Alanes (AMA): Hello, hello. Hello, everyone.
AMA: How is everyone doing today?
AS: Very good.
Henry Spychalski (HS): Sublime. Sublime.
HS: Where are you based, Ann Marie?
AMA: I’m currently based in Chicago. I moved here on Christmas Day from San Francisco, the Bay Area.
HS: Nice. Wow.
HS: We’ve got quite a lot of monthly listeners in Chicago. I’ve noticed from our Spotify stats.
HS: So we’re hoping we could go over there at some point.
AMA: Oh, that would be great. I would love to attend your show. I absolutely love your work.
Duc Peterman (DP): Oh, thank you.
AMA: Yes. To be honest, I didn’t hear of you until I started researching, and I can’t get “Proxy Love” out of my head. It’s been playing over and over in my head.
DP: Thank you.
AMA: The first time I heard it, it gave me goose bumps.
DP: No way. Really?
AMA: I just love your message. I love your values, as you’ve expressed through your past interviews and through your work. I’m a fan. I’m stanning right now.
HS: You’re very kind.
AMA: Yeah. I’m just being honest.
[00:10:27] Front man & vocals for HMLTD, Henry Spychalski, introduces the band & at least one positive quality each one has
AMA: I think Henry, just as on stage, would you do the honors of introducing everyone, their role, and say at least one positive thing about each person?
HS: Well, I can do two of those things. Me, I’m Henry Spychalski. I am the singer in HMLTD and the face of the band, I suppose you could say. On drums, we have Achilleas Sarantaris, all the way from Athens, Greece, who is a very kind man with lovely, long, curly hair, who is also a philosophy prodigy and is studying for a PhD in Philosophy. So, he is the band philosopher. And then we have Duc, who is the HMLTD guitarist and is a fantastic producer in his own right, and produces all of the HMLTD music, all of the songs, and does a lot of the engineering and that kind of thing as well, and is the general kind of person behind why and how we sound the way we do, sonically speaking.
AMA: Wonderful. And how about the couple of band members who…?
HS: Who weren’t able to make it? There’s Nico, who is our bassist and is a very suave man from Paris. And there is James, who is our guitarist, who is very strong.
AMA: Strong, like strong, or…?
HS: With big arms. Yeah.
AMA: Oh. Okay. And how about you guys, Achilleas and Duc? Why don’t you say something positive about Henry?
[00:12:24] Guitarist & producer for HMLTD, Duc Peterman, and drummer Achilleas Sarantaris say positive things about Henry
AS: You can go first.
DP: Oh. Well, what I’ve always liked about Henry, firstly, when we’re on tour, what’s amazing is that you can know, on whatever condition we go on stage, Henry is always going to give 110% of himself to the show. I always respect that a lot because I tend to spend a lot of the show kind of like behind, resting, whilst Henry does the entire show for the entirety of the band most of the time. I don’t say that often. I’m always very grateful that you take so much of the live responsibility on yourself and your own body. And he also has an amazing bum. I don’t know if you have like… He’s got, like, the perfect butt. And he’s also created aesthetics and stuff like that. He’s got good eyes for aesthetic vision, an aesthetic visionary.
DP: With an amazing bum.
AS: Yeah. Henry is a very nice man. He gives very nice hugs. I think that’s my favorite thing about Henry is his hugs. And everything that Duc said, of course, but that’s what stands out for me.
AMA: That’s awesome. You guys had not just one thing, but several good things to say about each other. So, that’s a good sign.
HS: We do this at the start of everything we do, every songwriting session or studio session, just to help us get along for the rest of it.
AMA: You do? You actually do that?
HS: Remind us of the good qualities that we have between us.
AMA: I love that. That’s great.
[00:13:58] Henry, Achilleas & Duc share endearing & personal stories about how they got into music
AMA: Okay. So, this is a question for any of you. What good stories do you have of how you got into music in the first place?
HS: I’ll go first. I have no training whatsoever as a musician. The rest of the band do. And I always wanted to be in a band, and always thought that I had the right kind of vision to be in a band. And I believed in myself that I could be a good front man and a good singer, but I didn’t really have any evidence of this. It was premised on pure faith. And it was a faith which obviously was hard for other people to put in me because I didn’t have any experience or musical knowhow. And so, when I moved to London about six years ago, it was with the intention of joining a band. Within the first week, I met Duc, Nico, and James, and we all decided that we’d start this project between us. And we had a different drummer at the time, who lasted for a year. And for the first seven or eight rehearsal sessions we had, I was just so shy that I would not sing a single word, so I just kind of like stand in front of the microphone, doing absolutely nothing. And thankfully, the rest of the band had enough faith in me, God knows why at that point, to kind of bear with me and wait for me to get my confidence together and eventually start singing, which I did after maybe a few months.
DP: Yeah. I still remember. You would just stay at the corner of the room, not saying anything, and then I would come up to you and be like, “Henry, do you want to try and sing something?” and you’d be like, “Maybe next time.” It was very endearing. But yeah.
HS: Everybody was very patient with me, basically.
DP: Yeah. But I remember, what was funny is that you were incredibly shy in front of us, and then we had that first gig that we did in that bar, but when we came up on stage, you were already a natural. It was like you’ve already practiced the stage. I mean, you probably did in your room or something like that. But it was like you were born for the stage already. You already had kind of like all the persona and all the bravado in you as soon as you stepped up on stage.
HS: Yeah. It’s a weird thing. I think it’s almost part of being vulnerable and showing things in like a small, intimate setting than it is on stage. I find it harder to show people things when it’s like a room of, like, three or four people. But if you’re in a room of, like, a few dozen people or a few hundred people and you’re on stage, there’s something about the stage which gives you, or at least gives me, kind of confidence. I don’t know why.
DP: Do you want to say how you started music, Achilleas?
AS: Yeah. Well, in hindsight, I think I was a very calm kid, teenager. Melancholic probably. Plausibly undiagnosed depression. And I think the reason why I started playing drums, because it was a good outlet for anger, I think. So I just started hitting things. Not things. Just the drums. Which is what you’re supposed to do with them, so it was a good thing. I think that’s why I started. Yeah. And it kind of stuck. So, yeah, not a very exciting story, but I think probably…I just thought about it just now. I hadn’t thought about this until you asked, so… I think that’s why.
AMA: What about you, Duc?
DP: Well, so, first, I started music through the guitar. I remember my parents took me to an Elvis Presley impersonator gig. And I was really impressed by Elvis Presley. I was really young at the time, so I was like, “Oh, I want to be like Elvis. I want to learn the guitar.” So I started learning the guitar probably when I was, like, 10, after watching this. Unfortunately, I’m still a pretty bad guitarist. But this is how I started. And then I think I remembered the moment where I really wanted to start doing music seriously, I think I was 13 or 14. It’s going to sound…it’s quite lame, actually, as a story, but I’m still going to say it. It’s actually really lame. I remember looking at myself in the mirror when I was 13 or 14, imagining playing a show in front of thousands and thousands of people, and I was like, “This is what I want to do with my life.” So, yeah, just kind of like 13-, 14-year-old kind of like egoism.
AMA: Wow. At 13 or 14, to be able to make that decision is big, you know? And then actually follow through.
HS: I didn’t know the Elvis story. That’s so cute.
HS: I didn’t know the Elvis story. That’s so cute.
DP: Yeah, yeah. No. It was really good. I still have the CD somewhere of the double-disc deluxe edition of the silly impersonator live gig.
AMA: Wow. I’d actually like to see that.
[00:19:10] Was there a lot of pushing & pulling in the making of “Leaving”?
AMA: Okay, so, there are several band members in HMLTD here, several musical styles and genres that you bring into your work. And also, with “Leaving,” there are thousands of combinations of stems or layers telling several stories within one song. So, with all these factors involved, there must be a lot of pushing and pulling. So, how do you all deal with that? Who’s the one that everyone runs to when attempting to resolve a situation within the band? Who ends up being the mediator? Is there one within the band?
AS: I want to say something about the things that I think is interesting. So, generally speaking, there’s a lot of pushing and pulling, for sure. And there’s been a lot of years of creative disputes. With this project, I think the fact that you don’t have one definite version and that people were a bit more “Well, you can put that one there as well.” Because you usually have to decide, right? Is it this person’s idea, or is it this person’s idea that goes in? Here, you’re like, “We’ll just put both of them in.” And we did that a few times. So, I think in this case, the kind of like form of this project allowed for sort of easier ride in terms of certain decisions, because it didn’t have to be made, right? You just put all of it in. That just answers part of your question, I guess. But I’m not sure about the other part. Does someone else want to chime in on that?
DP: I agree. I agree with you because, personally, I find one of the most daunting tasks when doing music is having to decide what the final version is. It’s like usually, when you write a song, I think, especially with HMLTD, we tend to have a lot of different parts written for that one and the same song. That’s why certain songs sound a bit kind of like all over the place. It’s because there’s actually been a lot more alteration of that song that’s been written beforehand. But here, it was actually quite relaxing having not to make that choice. That’s what’s interesting. That’s a good question. With “Leaving,” it’s that the authorship is not really on us anymore to finish the song. It’s up for the audience that possess the stems to actually finish the song for us. So, they’ve kind of like taken away that daunting task of having to finish the song away from us. And in a way, it’s a bit of a blessing because I personally really hate having to just like give someone the final product. For me, a song that I release is so much more than just that one song that’s on Spotify.
HS: Yeah. I think it’s a funny thing. The irony is that this is a process which we’ve actually almost done so many times before accidentally, which is, to take an example, “Mikey’s Song,” which is off the album “West of Eden,” that started off as being a kind of super auto-tuned hyperpop, PC music song, and then it went through so many different versions. At one point, it was an Afro Bashment kind of dance hall song. And then it finally ended up being this kind of synth pop indie ballad. But it went through so many different versions to get to that final point where we couldn’t just figure out exactly what version it was meant to be. And there’s so many more examples of that. And I think, yeah, that’s the funny thing is we’ve actually done this process of creating lots of different versions of the same song in a way that you could make dozens of different things with it. We’ve done this before.
AMA: I definitely want to talk more about that. But before we get there, I wanted to cover…
[00:22:43] HMLTD experienced inner growth and a maturation from the break-up with Sony and cancel culture. The pandemic caused large concerts to be pretty non-existent. Without the live, and specifically immersive shows to support the debut album, West of Eden, this is how HMLTD dealt with the effects of the pandemic:
AMA: I know you’ve talked about your experiences regarding this slow, insidious loss of creative control of the band’s work and identity while with the label giant Sony and how that added to the richness of your debut album, “West of Eden.” You have, in so many words, successfully proved, at least to me, that the very cancellation that happened of you as straight men and your gender-bending style was, in itself, a product of toxic masculinity. You seem to respond to these challenges in quite a mature, thoughtful, and genuine way. And Henry, you also talked about the spiritual crisis of the west and how it would get worse before it got better. You basically predicted what would happen in 2020. And so, this brings me to thoughts about how colorful and immersive your live shows have been, and not being able to do much in live performances following the release of your debut album because of the pandemic, I gather. I’m really curious as to how you dealt with all of what happened in 2020. Did it help you? Did it somehow add to your creative process? How did you all deal with that?
HS: I think one aspect in which it definitely influenced us is we started writing our second album a couple of months after we’d finished the first one. And the original idea was that we were going to create a really feel-good, euphoric album that was kind of full of joy, and that was just a pure celebration of joy. And what’s happened is it’s ended up going in somewhat the opposite direction, and it’s become this very dark, introspective, but also political album that’s certainly a lot darker than what we’d originally set out to create. And I’m sure that the general sociopolitical climate with the pandemic has probably been a large part of that. But in other ways, I think it’s been really, really good. It’s given us time to think about things, and time to think about what we want, and time to plan the next stage. And it has been obviously really a rich climate to take influence from in terms of ideas.
And I think, linking back to what you said about the live shows, we’ve realized that with those live shows, the kind of extravaganzas we create when we decorate the whole venue have particular themes. They don’t just have to be kind of occasions for imagination and escapism, but they can actually say something about the sociopolitical climate. And so, I think when we come back to doing live shows, which hopefully we will be doing in October-November kind of time, when things are opening up again in the UK, we’re going to start doing these live shows which are both visually really rich, but also have a much bigger sociopolitical point and are much more engaged from that perspective.
DP: Yeah. All things considered, I thought it was pretty good for actual production. Usually, people tend to be quite distracted by many things in life. And I personally quite enjoyed the fact that the pandemic has simplified ways of working together. I actually see more people now with the pandemic than I used to, weirdly enough. I’m not sure why. You know what I think? I think it’s like, yeah, I’ve got mild agoraphobia, so I think it was like the fact that the outside world was like a bit much for me, so I tend to stay inside and tried to get respite from people. But now I enjoy people’s company a lot more because it’s become a bit rarer. And there’s less people outside, so I think outside is a bit more enjoyable. And then, I think we make music more quickly now with the pandemic as well. But that’s just my personal opinion. I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone.
AMA: So, you make more music quickly because of the lack of distractions? Is that…?
DP: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s no clubbing. There’s no going to the pub and stuff like that. It’s either you look introspectively at yourself or you work. It’s kind of like you’ve got two options now. So, people tend to work a lot more because they don’t want to spend too much time with themselves.
AS: I didn’t like the pandemic. I don’t like the pandemic. I want it to be over. I don’t really want to find a silver lining in it. I just want it to be gone, you know, so I’m not going to try to do that.
DP: But it’s affected your work life and your life…
AS: It’s ruined it. It’s ruined everything.
AS: Yeah. I don’t like it, you know. I don’t know. I mean, for me, I think I tend to find anchors in the outside world, both creatively and spiritually and emotional kind of stuff. And, you know, I found it tough. I mean, you know, it kind of like, I guess, sort of…it does allow for the kind of introspection that Duc was talking about, but a year of introspection for me is a bit too much. So, the clock’s ticking down now, and I think I’ve gotten the Zen moment I needed to, and I just want things to kind of open up again, please, quickly. Safely, of course.
DP: Yeah, safely.
DP: Hopefully, we’ll be vaccinated soon.
AMA: Yeah. Hopefully, by the summer.
AMA: Okay. All right. Okay. So, what you’re doing with Async, this is a big deal. You’re a big deal. I don’t know if you guys know this.
AS: Where is the little air horns? I want the air horns.
[00:28:53] How does it feel to be the first band to create a programmable song (a layered NFT)?
AMA: No band has done this before. There are a lot of crypto art and music platforms. They’ve dropped lots of NFTs. But now, on top of Async allowing artists to create programmable art, now they can create programmable music, and that even includes the album cover art. How does that feel? What does it mean to you as an artist? What does it mean for those listening to these different stories and emotions within one musical work?
AS: I think it’s been amazing, to be honest. I think it’s really, really cool. So, the thing with music, it’s always been the case, I feel, it has a much more sort of, you know, kind of like valorized creative process, and other artworks too, right? Like the idea that, you know, you go in the studio for a few years, then everyone is silent. It has to be toxic, or you come out and this is like the final piece, and it has to be perfect, right? And everyone scrutinizes you immediately. It seems like other creative processes are much more sort of open to the idea of the process itself being something to be celebrated, like with the audience, with everyone involved. Something like theater, for example. Theater is procedural. Every night, it changes. It’s not perfect until the final night. I would say, with visual arts and performance art, of course, it’s pretty much just that, just the process. So, I think music kind of like lacks a sensitivity for the value of that, and also, as a result, a sensitivity for the intimacy between audience and creator, right? There’s this sense that you get the record, you put it in your room, and that’s it, like it’s done, right? And it kind of like goes through the pipes of major labels and distribution networks, and you never really see the musician. Maybe the live show afterwards, you might get a signature or an interview.
I think what Async has done, I think what it continued doing, is just kind of like breaking that down and opening up the process itself as an artwork, and also the consumer and the audience as an active participant in the musical world, which I think is great. How many times have you heard people say, “I love this album, but if this was slightly different”? And how many times have I felt, and musicians have told me, what you’ve just said, like, 10 minutes ago, “Why do you have to make this choice?” It’s just a constraint of the form. These choices are just a constraint of how the form has been historically. The fact that blockchain technology allows us to change that form, I think, is something to be celebrated. I think it’s amazing. I don’t think all music will end up being programmable. I don’t think it has to be. But there’s definitely a place. And I think there’s a lot of artists who could really thrive with such, with the process itself being the final artwork. Yeah. That’s my take.
AMA: What’s your hot take, Henry or Duc?
HS: Duc, do you want to go first while I formulate my hot take?
DP: I’m not sure. It was kind of like really hard to make, actually, so I don’t know how I feel about it anymore. Sometimes when you create something, you just spend so long inside of it. You know what I mean? It’s like sometimes the process is like tunnel vision. So, you’re inside making this thing, and the world stops existing around for a while, and that’s the only thing that’s on your mind. You go to sleep, you’re thinking about this. You wake up, you’re thinking about this. And I think this has occupied us first. We started working on this around November, perhaps November/December. And we started to get really into full production mode around…when was it? Like maybe January/February?
AS: Yeah. Late January, I think, yeah.
DP: Late January. So, I just feel like I just came out of the tunnel vision, so right now, I’m personally a bit numb. After creating something, I usually need a bit of time to actually know what I’ve created. Right now, I’m still trying to take a bit of distance from it and not think about it too much personally. But I’m still proud. I still think it’s amazing. In the grand scheme of things, it’s like it’s a real achievement. It’s rare to be able to actually do something and think to yourself that “I’m the first person to have done this ever,” you know? It’s this weird thing of, like, chance and technology and musicianship and craft all coming together at one single moment in time, and you just happen to be one of the persons that can be a pioneer in that. And for that, I feel incredibly lucky and I feel incredibly grateful to Async and all the collaborators that participated in the creation of “Leaving.” It was a really good experience. Yeah. What about you, Henry?
HS: To me, one of the most interesting things about what Async offers and what this kind of layered NFT offers is the possibility of a genuinely dynamic artwork that is basically never finished. And I remember when “Life of Pablo,” the Kanye album, came out. I found that really exciting, this idea that it was never really a finished product and that Kanye would be constantly changing the album, making changes to it, and that these will be updated on the Spotify, and that this album was in this kind of constant state of flux ad infinitum. That idea really, really, really excited me, and I was like, “Wow, this is so really revolutionary,” regardless of whatever else you want to think about Kanye. I was like, “Wow, this is amazing.” And with this, it actually gives you the ability to really push the idea to its limits because you’re decentralizing the process of decision-making in a way which has just never been possible before. Like with “The Life of Pablo,” whatever changes happen to it, those are decisions that are made by a central body, and so they’re not going to be made very often, and it’s going to be quite slow for those changes to be reflected in the artwork. Whereas here, because of the way in which authorship and artistic control and creation are decentralized, and the way that the blockchain responds to its inputs, you actually have a genuinely dynamic artwork that is changing and evolving in real time.
And another thing I find really exciting and tantalizing is the idea that there are thousands of combinations of this one song, some of which will never be heard and yet they kind of exist, even if just in potentiality. Over the thousands of different versions of this song that there are, we, between us, as the creators of this project and as the artists, have only heard a fraction of them. There are literally hundreds of versions that we’ve never heard before. And when we’re playing the track before finalizing the project, essentially by randomizing which inputs we had for each layer, we just kept hearing all these different versions which we’d never heard before, and each one had its own really unique character and unique emotional identity. And so, I’m really excited to hear what other forms the song takes. But I’m also just interested in the idea that there’s so many versions of it which will never be heard even though they exist.
AMA: That’s an interesting hot take.
[00:36:45] The story, process, meaning, challenges and discoveries behind the song “Leaving”, and its social implications
AMA: So, could you briefly explain the process of what it took to create “Leaving,” and the stories and meanings behind “Leaving,” and the name itself as well?
HS: In terms of the actual story behind the song, like getting into it lyrically, and again, this is something that’s really interesting about this technology that you have with Async, is that it enables you to tell loads of different sides of the same story. I really love that in books or in films where you see the same thing from different perspectives. And this actually allows you to do that. And so, the song is centered around basically a love triangle between these three characters. And the first perspective that we worked on was a classic pop trope which was somebody being left by somebody else. And then there’s another lyrical perspective which is from the perspective of the person who is doing the leaving. And then there’s another perspective from the person who the first person is being left for. And so, you get all these different perspectives on the story. And also, there’s a chronological element. I won’t get into the details because I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but they all kind of meld into each other, and each of the characters who are involved becomes the other one.
DP: Sounds kinky.
HS: They all exhibit these different qualities of jealousy and possessiveness. And certain characters come back to haunt the other characters in this kind of endless, infinite loop of leaving, being left, and being the person who was left for. So, it’s kind of like playing with pop tropes. And I think that’s, again, something that’s really distinct about this project is that it’s kind of an homage to pop music and pop music’s tropes and pop music’s variabilities as a cultural aspect.
AS: Just to add to that, I think the title “Leaving” kind of represents a dynamism in a way that it’s a process. It’s a verb, right? It’s a process. It doesn’t stop. Who’s leaving? Who’s being left? What are they leaving for? So it’s like that’s what we’re describing. It’s not a moment. It’s a spectrum of moments that could describe the process of leaving, whatever that means, right? And just a few more tidbits that I think are really interesting. So, the way we’ve done it is kind of we’ve named every… So, there’s about, I think, 24 or 26 individual stems, right? So, in combination, that is 6 to the power of 4, about 1500 (Correction: Actually 6400 combinations) because of the different combinations you can make. So, there’s 6 to the power of 5.
They’re all named after emotions, right? So, the idea is that, for the vocal ones, it’s kind of like tentatively named after the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining. So, there’s this procedural thing going on there, and also the leaving process. And the more instrumental ones are also named after emotions that represent kind of like the sonic backbone of each individual instrument that’s playing. So, one of the basses is called “Lust” because it’s like a really sexy base. And that’s probably part of sort of the emotional spectrum around the situation. So, you have 24 of these, and then the way you combine them. Emotions are not singular. Moments are not singular. Love is very complicated, right? So, it feels a bit like a big stew where you put the different emotions and you come up with these feelings. Each individual layers, so each stem, I think it’s called, each individual sort of procedural spectrum of the instrument, so like drums, they all have one layer which is empty. So, there’s one called Absence. One is called Grief. We don’t need to go too much with it.
Related to the point I made earlier about authorship, I think that’s also the big challenge we had with this, which is that someone could plausibly turn the state onto the empty ones and burn it, right? They can burn the token, and then that’s it. Like the song is gone forever. No one can change it. And I think that’s so interesting because we are all perfectionists. I think we’re all also control freaks. I think we also exhibit traits of narcissism, right? So, the idea that someone could take what we worked on and just delete it from existence, that’s a tough one. But I think it’s also kind of liberating because you’re like, “This is a worst-case scenario.” But that’s their choice. Again, like in relation to the song lyrics, the options of something could also… Even the permanent options of something, I would be really excited… Please don’t do it. If you buy a layer, please don’t burn it. But if you do burn it, I think it could be really interesting. I don’t know how I’d feel about it. Probably get really angry, feeling like I’ve been left by my own artwork, right? So, you know, yeah, this is what I want to add in terms of just the narrative and the title. Yeah.
HS: I think there’s another really interesting element there, which is, a lot of people were…I’ve seen them talking about what political or economic impact the blockchain could have and how it could be used in politics and in economics. And this is an interesting project because it’s almost an exercise or an experiment in cooperation between individuals who are isolated from each other, and each only have a specific amount of knowledge available to them. And there’s this interesting thing of whether or not the people who own the different layers are going to collaborate and all kind of somehow figure out how to make a version of the song which works really well together. For example, like somebody chooses the ballad vocal, somebody chooses the ballad piano, somebody chooses the ballad drums, or if it’s going to be a kind of Hobbesian state of war where it just descends into pure chaos and everybody is just choosing conflicting things that don’t fully work with each other. So, I think that’s going to be really interesting is to see whether the natural state of things is cooperation or conflict.
DP: To go back, for me, for the process, one other thing I really enjoyed was actually the storytelling part of it. I think Henry did an amazing job on that. So, I find that, usually, when you write a song, if you want to tell a story within a song, you’ve got about four minutes and about a certain amount of words and verses and stanzas to say the story. It starts at A, finishes at Zed. And then you need to somehow have synthesized the entire story of what you want to say in this really restricted version of it. And if the story is about like a breakup or something like that, it’s hard to have all the different nuances of what it means to break up with someone. If you’re lucky, you can do an entire album, but you’re still quite restricted by the album format. And what I thought was really cool and interesting in the way Henry decided to build the whole thing is that by having different vocal layers, you can actually have a dynamic storytelling where you kind of like start discovering the different viewpoints and the different nuances and how the story is being told by interacting in between different layers. You know what I mean? So, it’s not only just like an exercise in form, in musical form. It’s also an exercise in storytelling that I think is just as exciting as the kind of like cool music technology thing.
And to go into the production of the actual musical thing, it was like…it was quite a weird thing to do because it’s like from the beginning, we all agreed that we wanted each different layer to actually have grave repercussion on the overall song. We didn’t want it to be just kind of like small changes, like it changes a bit the tonality, or it’s a bit more stereo, or the EQ is different. We wanted to give the power to people that possess the stem to actually dramatically change the song. So, everything is, like, organized so that it can go from a piano ballad to a dub step remix, and all of the different kind of like genres and combination of genres in the middle that this entails. And so, actually creating that in a way that, at the same time, gives power to the audience and also doesn’t turn into a massive mess, if someone wants to kind of like re-experiment between genres, was quite complicated. It’s sort of like trial and error. And it was a lot of like someone will write a part, and then it would sound good with this, but it would not sound good with something else, and then you’d have to kind of like constantly backtrack. And so, yeah, it’s like maybe because we’re probably the first one to do this, it was like quite complicated to do. But yeah, it was really a challenge. It was quite interesting, though. I don’t think we ever worked on a song where you need… How much was it, Achilleas? Twenty-four states of this song? No, it’s more. It’s a thousand or something like that.
AS: Well, no. So, it’s 26 different audio files, the combinations of which… And there’s always, at most, six active, so the combination is (6400).
DP: Yeah, where you have several thousand different combinations that can work at the same time. Obviously, some combinations are more musical than others, but that’s also part of the fun.
AS: So, I think that’s the interesting thing as well. So, I think we had a choice, right? Sorry, did I interrupt you?
DP: No, no. Go ahead. Go ahead. I was just babbling at this point, so…
AS: Okay, okay. We have a choice from earlier on. So, I think there’s tradeoff, right? On the one hand, you don’t go for, like, full decentralization choice, right? So, Async’s limitations, for example, are 9 by 9. So that will be nine different stems with nine different combinations per stem. That’s 360,000 different combinations. So, at this stage, unless we spend, like, three years on this, it would be impossible to do this (more than three years, actually) for all of them to make sense. On the other end of the spectrum, you could go for something really simple, right? So, like three states with three combinations where they don’t overlap. So, you could have like the drums, and the drums come out, for example, and then it’s the vocals. So then, you kind of like minimize the possibility for dissonance. So, we wanted to kind of like position ourselves, in terms of the production, somewhere in that spectrum, where we gave as much [47:56] as we could, and as many variations as we could, without compromising the artistic integrity of the song.
So, what I think was the really hard thing to do, and kudos to Duc for this because he really worked really hard on ensuring that, was I think we struck… That’s the one thing I’m really proud of. We struck a really good balance between these two things, right? And all of the combinations aren’t bad, they all make sense musically, they all follow with each other, but there’s still a lot of variation that can happen. There’s no minimal change, right? So, we managed to do this [48:24] where, because of different melodies, different lyrics, different voices, different instruments, one change, so if you change the bass line, or if you change the drums, the whole song changes radically because of kind of like what’s in between the lines. So the sum is greater than the parts in a way. It’s not just this bass and this drums. It’s like you change one thing and the coloring of the whole thing changes, right? And I think that’s what I’m proud of at least is I think we struck a good line with the amount we did. I think eventually, hopefully, we or other artists will be able to expand that and allow for more combinations with even more sort of like possibilities while maintaining the artistic backbone. But I am quite happy that, at the first try, we did quite well with kind of like the amount of things we managed to stuff in there while still not destroying our minds or the actual songs themselves, I guess.
[00:49:20] The album cover artwork, created by Mike Raymond, is programmable and changes with the music as well
HS: There’s another element to it as well, which is obviously that the album artwork, the cover, also changes in real time to the song. So that was another aspect of it that we had to go ahead around was that the album would be changing when the song changed, and so that when you changed a particular stem, that was reflected in some way on the album cover as well. So, we worked with Mike Raymond, who is a long-term collaborator. He also designed our album artwork and he’s been working with us since day one. He’s also been amazing in the process, and he’s created this really awesome artwork, which also speaks to the concept of the story behind “Leaving.”
AS: Yeah. And I want to also just add to that. The idea of collaboration, I think, is also what this opens up, right? So, if you have too many people on one song, it can get messy, right? But with this thing, it actually gets better the more people we have, I think, because, again, you’re adding all these layers and all this color. So, you know, we worked with a lot of people for this one. So, there’s at least eight people involved in the music side, then you had Mike, then you had the label, and then all of the backbone. And that was great. So, I just want to kind of shout out. Seth Evans, who added sort of like his perspective and everything, who plays the piano, did some great lap steel guitar coloring. He added a little bit of writing. So, that was great to be able to integrate that without sort of taking away from other things, just adding everything together. And also, Tallulah, who did an amazing work with vocals on two of the variations’ lyrics. And also, again, it’s just that perspective, right? So, for the first time ever, I felt like this was… Because of, again, it’s like songs rather than a song, we were able to just have more and more perspectives and more like sort of beautiful artistic ideas without there being a tradeoff at the end, but rather, just additive. So, I think, for me, that’s one of the best things that this does. There’s a lot of collaborations. I could envision people collaborating that I couldn’t envision before.
DP: Yeah. But it was quite interesting because it was really like, for this to work, it was you had to bring in everything you’ve learned so far in music, whether it was like how can you have as many variations as possible using songwriting, using musical theory, using lyrics, using production and musical engineering? It was really like…I really felt like I had to use all of the tricks up my back in order for this to make sense together. From that sense, it was a real challenge. Even like something as stupid as like organizing your sessions, even that was incredibly important in order for this project to work. And I was really looking at every aspect of what makes a song a song and trying to see how much you could play around with it, how deeply could you go inside the song itself to variate it as much as possible. It really had that kind of like black hole way of working on something that I thought was quite interesting.
[00:52:37] Would you create another programmable musical work? How would you go about it?
AMA: Because it takes so much to make a song like this, would you do it again?
DP: Well, I mean, we were talking about it. I think we want to go even further if we’re going to do it again, right? Even more decentralized. I think that’s what you were saying, Achilleas.
AS: Yeah. I mean, I think, for me, the logical next step would be to just sort of take what we learned, which is quite a lot, actually. I think we learned quite a bit. Okay. So, what would be amazing is if we ourselves were blind to the information, right? So, kind of like almost maybe utopian. It would be like we finish something and we kind of don’t listen to it anymore. We put it on the back sort of thing. Make layers and layers and layers and layers, and then we combine them randomly without…kind of like limiting our own knowledge of the big picture, right? In this case, the audience has sort of a limited knowledge because they can’t really collaborate with each other with full information symmetry. If we’re able to do the same thing to ourselves, and then create many more stems, and then we float them out there, sort of like giving even more of the authorship in the process itself, rather than being the orchestrators of a symphony that we kind of arrange themselves, being sort of like more blind orchestrators. I think that would allow for the combinations to gain even more sort of like impact. So then, the programmable thing would be… And to add some randomization there as well, like some of the generative artwork things that I’ve been seeing are given space. That would be great, I think. So, yeah, I mean, it’s just one step up. Yeah.
DP: I agree with you because what we’ve used so far is kind of like more, I guess, basic musical tricks, which is like classical songwriting and song production, which I think is like quite an interesting thing. It’s like how can you make programmable art with classic songwriting, which I think is one of the good things we’ve done. But next time, I definitely want to incorporate more of like new technologies that permits you to use artificial intelligence or more generative or procedural ways of making music. Because at the moment, everything has been recorded or designed by one of us. I think it would be really interesting if, in the future, the authorship that we have on the work disappears even more, almost to the point where it’s almost nonexistent.
HS: Yeah. One thing I’d like to link to that is something based around the idea of Chinese whispers or exquisite corpse, like the game where you draw layers of a person, and you just start the process. You draw the first layer, but then it can go in any direction after that. And to create something like that where every person adds their own twist to the story in a kind of random way, where what the previous state was isn’t entirely revealed to them necessarily. And what you end up with at the end, I think that would be really interesting.
AS: Yeah, that could be great. You have a situation like maybe the artist sends to the next artist what they did, and then it sort of like goes like that, right? And then you just package the whole thing up, right? But then the last person never heard the first one, and so on, and you kind of like… There’s so many possibilities in this. I think it’s amazing.
HS: And you could do that with different formats as well. I mean, we’ve always wanted to try and be more than just a band. We’ve wanted to try and be, I hate to use this word, but almost like a multidisciplinary project where we incorporate not just music, but the video is a really big part of it, the photos, the whole world creation. And so, I think to be able to do something like that across different disciplines where, say for example, somebody writes the music, and then, again, in almost a game of exquisite corpse, somebody else makes a video to it, and somebody else makes an artwork for it, or something like that, and how well you could keep that going. I think that could be really interesting.
DP: It’s interesting what you said. I was thinking this the other day as well, is that when we started off as a band, we’ve always wanted to not just do music. Music obviously is the central part of it, but we put as much attention when it comes to the universe around the music, to the music videos, to the live shows, to the aesthetic, etc. But this is for the first time that we actually were able to experiment with the production of it, like the way it’s produced and the way it’s disseminated within the world, and what the song is as a product. And I think for me, that was what was the most kind of like exciting thing about making this is that it was more than…it was the first time that we could actually artistically look at how a song is produced and who has authorship over the song, on the actual, almost like economical product, like commodity thing, of the song itself.
AMA: Wow. Okay, well, how about we go to Achilleas?
AS: Did we talk too much?
AMA: No, no. It’s a lot… No. You made so many… I don’t know. I’m just excited about the future and what you guys are going to do with it.
[00:58:02] The story behind HMLTD connecting with Async & a laymen’s explanation of crypto terms.
AMA: So, what I really find interesting is that Achilleas actually reached out to Async first. So, what led you to Async, if you could share that with us? And how did you all end up here because of your, I guess, pioneering ways?
AS: Yeah. So, some your audience probably have heard of the DeFi summer last year, the more crypto-oriented. So, that was a period of time where I probably spent about two months just margin trading with Uniswap for no reason whatsoever. Because, yeah, that’s what the pandemic does, right? I didn’t really do much crypto before. I probably had a bit of Bitcoin stored away somewhere. And then, a sheer combination of boredom and excitement, and also horror, to be honest, at some of the things that were happening in the space led me to just be really deep in it, and a few friends. And, you know, inadvertently, I bumped into kind of like the NFTs that were happening at the time, so like Cryptopunks and some of the… I think during the summer, OpenSea started taking off. So, there was all these NFT things happening at the time. And I found this really interesting, and I started talking about it with a few friends of mine.
And so, a friend of mine, Alex, who has worked with Async, he was like, “Oh, look. This is a company that I’ve been working with. Because you like art, you do music, right? Here’s what I do. I do all these weird paintings that change with time.” And they just did this collaboration with Christie’s on the… it was the big one they did, the Block 21 at the time. I was like, “That’s really exciting.” And then immediately, I was like, “Okay, wait. The picture changes. What about the music changing?” So I skipped the first wave that happened, which was like, “Let’s take the song and put it on the blockchain,” which is great, right? But I don’t know. It didn’t really strike me that much.
And I just emailed them. I was like, “Hey, guys. I heard you do the visual things. What about the music things?” And we set up a call with Conlan. That was last summer. And we talked. And after five minutes, it became apparent that they were working on exactly the same thing I was thinking about at the time, which is making this for music. And that was great because he was kind of finishing my sentences off, and I was like, “Oh.” And I always had this amazing idea. I’m sure I’m the only person who has ever thought about it, which is like “How about you take the stems…?” It’s like, “Yeah, we were literally just building this.” And then, you know, I was like, “Great. I mean, we’re going to start working on it as well.” And so, we started messaging back and forth. And by December, we decided to sort of like launch this with them, which is great. And ever since, you know… Yeah. I think it was just being at the right place at the right time really. It’s completely coincidental. The luck element here involved is kind of like… I would have never stumbled upon Async had it not been for me being at Christie’s at a certain point of time where a friend of mine was just happening to be showing Uniswap to another friend of mine.
And then, Async has been amazing. They’ve been so supportive and also great and really interesting. I mean, what they’ve been doing for so long, starting from a period of time where there just wasn’t so much attention in the space, specifically on what they were doing. They’ve been like three steps ahead of the game for the whole time. And that’s amazing. And I think that now we’re going to actually see exactly why. Because, again, NFTs are great, they’re interesting, but people have already started questioning, “Okay, great. You have a signature that points to the original. What more can you do? We’ve built these supercomputers for the last seven years. Surely, they can do more on that.” And it’s like, yeah, well, the NFTs can do something. They can change the state. They can influence. And that opens up this amazing conversation around authorship and programmability and interoperability. And I think me and Async, we’re at the same page on that. And I’m really happy we just kind of like landed at this at the right time. So, yeah, that’s the long answer. The short answer is luck. Yeah.
AMA: I love the synchronicities in that story.
AS: Yeah. Yeah, for sure.
[01:02:27] Thoughts regarding the hype in the crypto creative space over NFTs & more laymen’s terms
AMA: So, what are your thoughts regarding the hype that’s happening in the crypto creative space right now?
AS: I want to be careful with that. Okay. So, it’s kind of like double-sided, right? New things always get a lot of excitement, and sometimes plausibly overshoot a bit. So, you know, I think it happened a bit too quickly. That’s my only concern. It wasn’t really in the mainstream until February, and then it suddenly becomes like the biggest thing in the world, I think. I think the reason why it became the biggest thing in the world is because it is the biggest thing in the world. But the speed at which it became the biggest thing in the world is slightly concerning because I think it means that people don’t have the time to be able to completely.
So, right now, what I’m seeing around is like there’s two camps, right? One of the people are saying this is completely going to revolutionize art and change everything we know about the music industry, for sure. And the other group is saying this is a scam and a Ponzi scheme. And there’s nuance in between, I think, which is kind of like the worrying thing. So, you know, I think there’s a lot of justified hype, but I think that because of the kind of world that we’re living in today and the way that social media exponentially grows audiences, I think it might need to calm down a tiny bit before it matures into the space I know it will become eventually. I think we’re in this [1:03:55] process right now where it’s like this is the first attempt at anchoring both crypto, and particularly NFTs, into the public consciousness. And I think there are going to be a couple of more sort of like throws until it becomes embedded into the way we actually… You don’t even think about crypto when you think about art at this stage. Like, it’s one and the same, right? I think that’s where we’ll end up eventually.
AS: But it might take a while, right? And I’m fully aware that we’re at an experimental stage of the process, and I’m embracing that rather than… I do worry about it a bit, but I am also embracing it. Yeah.
HS: I find that it’s just really exciting to be there at the beginning of something. It feels like just super exciting and almost how I imagine it was in the ’90s when the World Wide Web was just kicking off, and then you had, again, these two camps of people who said it was going to completely change the world, and people who said that it was essentially a scam. And I am really excited by the fact that it still remains to be seen what will happen. It’s just exciting to be at the start of something, full stop, I think.
AS: But I do want to say one thing, which I think is like… Everyone is complaining about the gas fees, but the combination of the gas fees and the exorbitant prices, I think, means that we’re still not yet seeing how this could apply to…every single fan can be involved in this thing, right? Because right now, they can, either because most artwork cost like $20,000-$30,000 at least to get, and because doing it means you have to go to Coinbase, deposit to MetaMask, and sort of like sign in, pay £200 fee. So, that’s the thing that I want it to be. And also, the environmental issue around sort of the cheaper end of this. Because at the more expensive end of the spectrum, it’s not that bad in terms of like dollar gains. But the smaller ones, obviously, with the proof of work, it’s kind of like the environmental impact of each one is quite high. So, I think once these things are solved, and we move on to Layer 2, and gas fees are lower, and everything is proof of stake, I think that’s when we’ll see the real meaning of this, where like every single fan can have, can be involved, can own a part of the process and of the artist’s kind of like output. That will be the exciting thing for me is when it becomes like more than just a collector’s sort of like game and more of like democratized. I mean, you know, there will be challenges for that, and I don’t have… I think what collectors are doing right now is really great because they are very involved in the artistic process, actually, contrary to traditional artwork collectors where it’s more like you buy it and you just shove it at some dungeon or something. But yeah, you know, that’s, for me, the exciting thing is when everything is…when it’s like the same as buying a T-shirt, right? Yeah.
[01:06:45] How HMLTD helps fans continue a sense of belonging while HMLTD explores the possibilities of the blockchain world.
AMA: Yeah. I want to add, too, to what you said there with the crypto world. It seems like it’s this playground for the crypto wealthy, and it makes it hard for your fans to be crypto patrons of you, of just popular bands and musicians in general. How might you help fans to continue the sense of belonging while you’re taking the journey through this new world?
DP: Well, one other thing we’re doing, we’re pretty much giving a layer to the fans, right? We’re giving one of the layers. We’re not selling it for auction. We’re just giving it to the fans. I’m not sure exactly what’s the technicality behind this.
AS: We haven’t decided that yet, but since you announced, you might as well do it.
DP: Okay. Well, we’re going to give… We want to make sure… We’re not really interested in… We’re doing this mainly for the arts. We’re not really doing this just to be a cash grabber that jumps on the hype train and tries to make some money out of the blockchain. What we’re really interested in is the actual experiment of what it means to make decentralized, programmable music on the blockchain. This is why we started doing this. So, we want to make sure that we somehow still involve the fans in this, that we just agreed together to give one of the layers to the fans, because the reason why we’re able to do this in the first place is thanks to them. And we want to make sure that the people that can affect this song are also the people that enjoy our music, not just some random crypto NFT collector who maybe doesn’t have much of an interest in music and has more interest in making profit from, you know, the NFT… I’d rather people that actually care about our music possess the actual layers.
AS: Although, we do welcome the collectors. And if you’re listening, you know, please buy something. I think what would be great on this is… This is actually a bit of technicality, but I think what’s really interesting, recently they figured out how to fractionalize a layer while still maintaining its operability. So, what you can do is you can get a layer. You can break it into little chunks. These chunks are votes for the layer. So, what you could do… Okay. So, on the one hand, we spent a lot of time on this, right? This was not an easy project. I don’t want to sell these layers off for like $10 because this was the work that go into an album. It’s just unique, and I don’t think that we should undervalue it. At the same time, you want to make sure that people get involved somehow. What you could do is just essentially the layer itself gets locked up in a smart contract, you issue shares against it, and people can just vote on what sort of like layer is playing at a given time. So, what you do is you involve everyone, but just instead of having complete access over what’s playing at a given time, they just vote. And it can be like, “Okay, do you guys want to change the drums now to the electronic ones?” Say there’s 10 people who have shares, and eight of them say yes, and then they sort of like vote, and it should get a majority opinion.
So, you know, actually, I think in this thing as well, it’s more of democratic. The artwork becomes almost like a government in a way or like a little platform in itself. And we can build things on top of that and stuff. You can make like a whole thing. I don’t know what you can make it. You can make stuff with it. But, you know, that’s a way out. The way out is like fractionalizing and using that as an interoperability thing. And that would be great because then you end up essentially avoiding the hoarding by collectors, and you allow everyone to experience the ability of being able to sort of get involved in the creation process without undercutting or undermining the value of the artwork itself. So, we could see a world in which Kanye releases a song and, say, 1000 fans have the vocals, 2000 fans have the beat, and it’s sort of like every week they vote, “What are we listening to this week?” Maybe it’s like little forums where they argue about whether or not it should be like the 808 kicks or the sort of more top heavy kicks or whatever. And it’s like little subgroups for the 808. I’m going off. But you can see this becoming a thing is what I’m saying. Yeah.
AMA: Yeah. So, you’re describing an idea that you have. It’s not something that’s actually in anyone’s plans?
AS: No, although I think that Async and Niftex did recently announce that it’s technically possible to be able to have a layer that’s locked up but it’s still able to change by input. It hasn’t happened yet, I don’t think. Yeah.
DP: You’re just giving away all our ideas.
[01:11:45] Advice to musicians thinking about entering the world of crypto music
AMA: So, what would be your advice to musicians thinking about entering the world of crypto music?
AS: Okay. Do it the hard way, I think. It’s like don’t take something you did and just put it on NFT and then sell it on Rarible. I mean, we did that for three months now. Do something with what you’re doing that’s exciting and that employs sort of the underlying technology in a way that’s artistically valuable and interesting and pushes your message forward. I think that’s what we need now, right? We kind of are past the phase where tokenization itself is revolutionary and radical. We’re at the phase where “What can we do with this that’s pushing the artwork forward?” Whatever that is. I don’t want to see any more massive musicians showing up, doing a 30-second gif with a 10-second beat under it, and make $3 million out of it. I mean, again, people who did that early, they were actually doing something revolutionary, and it was amazing. And all the people who have been on this space, the musicians who have been in this space for years, like, those people have contributed so much to this thing, and I’m not going to undermine that. It’s just now, where we’re at now, we have to start moving forward. And I think some of the musicians should think about “How can I push the envelope forward in terms of what music can do and what it can be?” rather than “How do I make money?”
HS: I think to me, what’s really exciting, and this is obviously what we’ve tried to do in this project, is the possibility of using the technology not just as a way to get market value, but as an artistic tool. I think that there’s a lot of potential for that, and I think that that’s the most exciting thing that you can do is use this technology as a creative tool.
DP: Yeah. I agree with both of them. For the moment, I’ve seen a lot of people… Obviously, I’m not talking about the artist that started this, but I see how people are using the blockchain and the technology as an end in itself, where it’s like they should be using the technology as a way to push what they’re doing forward. The blockchain and the NFT is just the beginning of what they should be looking at. There’s like a whole world beyond that that I think is really where innovation is. And you should have your eyes focused on something else than the NFT and the blockchain, I think, is my…
AS: I do want to add something, which is like, at the same time, saying that, I think it’s still really good that artists have the opportunity to make collectibles essentially, and scarce assets that collectors or really high funds can invest in that without the middleman. I think that’s great in itself, for sure. I just…I don’t want this to be the limitation for the whole thing is what I’m trying to say. And maybe we should look a bit beyond it now. But, I mean, I don’t want to sort of like undermine what people are doing already. I think it’s great. It’s really hard to pay the rent as a musician, as an artist. It’s a creative way. That will be fun how to do that. So, that in itself is good. Yeah.
DP: There is one amazing thing that I’ve noticed is the amount of musicians that actually were able to make good money for once. It’s renowned, as a musician, for you to actually make money, you’re going to have to work like crazy, and you’re going to have to get exploited so much in order to make just a little amount of money. Like contracts in general, record contracts, are made to enslave you, just to make you work like crazy, and so that people can make profit of your work. And that is amazing with the NFT technology, thinking about a world where potentially, as an artist, you can see most of the profit of what you actually produce. And this goes into that whole discussion about getting rid of the middleman. I mean, I’m saying that I’m really happy with my label. I have no problem with my label. But despite that, a potential world where there’s no need for the middleman, it’s amazing for artists. And that is really like, I think, one of the most exciting things that I’ve ever heard of.
AMA: I agree. Yes.
[01:16:08] The practical way to push the technology and creativity forward
AMA: I want to go back to, Achilleas, when you were talking about pushing it forward. I feel like, in a practical sense, a lot of musicians or artists don’t really…they look at the tools that they have, and they don’t think outside the box and say, “Oh, I have this idea. I’m going to go to this platform team and tell them what my idea is, and see if they can work with that.” And I think that’s really important to put out there that whatever ideas you have, practically, you have to actually go out to these platforms and say, “Hey, can you do this? I would like to do this.” And I think they would be really open to that because they do want to be unique, and they do want to also push the work forward.
AS: Yeah. I mean, this is such a nascent space that there’s just so much possibility for innovation. A lot of things haven’t been done yet. I’m sure two years from now, we’re going to be looking at this and be like, “Oh, wow. How did they not think about this thing that we’re now doing?” And it’s like everyday practice. So, we need more artists and musicians to come into this space and do some of the reading. It took me a month to understand exactly what Ethereum is and why it’s important that things happen there, for example. If you do that, though, then different approaches, combining sort of like the artistic and musical experience and knowledge with sort of like an understanding of technology, can just open new doors that no one has thought about, because it’s like, what, a few hundred people looking at this right now. First, a music industry of tens of thousands, now hundreds of thousands of people working there. So, you know, if you’re watching this video, or if you’re already sort of like one of the first… So, I think, yeah, people should just talk to each other more and try crazy things because that’s what we need, I think, right now. I can’t wait to see the unlimited potential of this to even be slightly tapped, because it hasn’t even been tapped yet. It’s just beginning to be tapped. And that’s great. And the teams are great, like all of the other teams. Async is amazing. They’re so helpful. Just email them and be like, “Here’s a crazy idea I had.” And maybe it’s not that crazy. Maybe you just had the best idea in the world. You won’t know until you try it.
HS: Async has been with us throughout the whole process. Async has been really fantastic. And so, I think it’s definitely a lesson not to be intimidated by these institutions, that it’s really worth reaching out. They can give so much support.
DP: I mean, that’s like really an advice on doing art, or doing anything in life in general. You just not be intimidated. Just go and do it, you know? That’s what you did, Achilleas. You were looking at NFTs and you were like, “I want to do this with music.” And then you just called them.
AS: I remember when… Yeah. After I thought about it and I read NFTs, first, I called the label and I was like… This is back in December, right? I was like, “Okay, so, here is the idea, right? You take this thing. You put it on the blockchain.” By that time, they had already launched the blockchain. Again, we heard about this three years ago. “You tokenize, then you sell it, and then the layers, they change, and you [1:19:26].” And they were like, “Yeah, okay. What did you just say? What? It changes the layer? The what?” So, it took me, like, five times. But then everyone was like, “This works. This makes sense.” It wasn’t that I was a genius. It was just like I spent two more weeks reading about Ethereum and I came across this team. I mean, that’s it. The information is not widely available yet, right? So, again, that’s why luck is involved here. I was lucky. If someone else was in Greece in August learning Uniswap, someone else would be doing this right now. I’m glad I was the one who was there. But, you know, reach out. Read up. It’s great. There’s stuff here. Don’t worry. Yeah. And it takes a while to explain, but I think it’s going to make sense soon to more people because it’s going to be more digestible. Yeah.
[01:20:08] HMLTD would love to see more blockchain devs and music platforms initiating contact with musicians who are not yet involved in the blockchain space.
AMA: So, what would your advice be to blockchain devs, or just people creating these new crypto music platforms? Any other advice that you have for them?
AS: I think it’s really important that more artists and musicians get heard around the development of these things. I think that will be great. I think, you know, having sort of… And not just like, you know, sort of the person you want to put on your website is an adviser because they look good. It would be great if you could go to the sort of everyday musicians who either do experimental music or not as well-known, who already work with programmable music, for example, and sort of like avant-garde compositions, and sort of like the rock musicians. Just reach out to them and, you know, explain the thing. And maybe it’s a good idea for the blockchain devs to go to the musicians first. That will be great, I think. I haven’t really seen that as much. I feel like it’s still like an insular space, which is a good thing because insularity is going to serve creativity. And in the [1:21:09] imagination, you have to be a bit tight. But I think we’re at a place now where people have to start reaching out to the musicians. Also, to the label. I mean, again, it’s been problematic, but the label is not the devil, right? They know some things as well. So it would be great for them to be involved in the conversation as well. I think if this is to become a thing, like a proper sort of like replacement or, at the very least, an amendment of the traditional music industry and consumption, we need to have a wide-ranging conversation. So, if you’re working on the gallery space or in sort of like the NFT space in general, I think reach out to people who are not in the space, who have never heard of Ethereum before. See what they think about… Explain the tools in English, and then go and explain them in Ethereum-ese, and then see what they think. Yeah. I think that would be great because we need more people to get involved in the thing. The more, the merrier, I think, at this stage.
[01:22:01] HMLTD’s upcoming projects and shows, including a very ambitiously immersive London show in the fall, their 2nd album
AMA: Okay. So, what current and upcoming projects, shows, etc. do you want your fans to know about?
HS: There’s a lot. There’s a lot planned. I mean, like I said, we’re in the midst of working on our second album, which I think is going to be better than the first. It’s in a really exciting stage at the moment. The songs are still very new and very nascent and still kind of forming in our heads what exactly they’re going to be, but I think it’s a much richer album than our first one. And then, as of November, we’ll be returning to the world of live music, everything permitting. And we have an extremely exciting show planned for the autumn in London, which will be almost like an immersive theater experience, I would say.
DP: Yeah. It’s our most ambitious show. Yeah.
AMA: Oh. Okay. That’s exciting.
HS: It’s a totally immersive piece of theater which, again, a bit like this project, engages the audience in participation directly in this case, both with the music and with the physical space, the architecture of the venue in which we’re hosting it.
[01:23:32] We talk about LARPing, and Achilleas’ attempts a LARPing joke.
DP: It’s almost like LARPing.
AMA: Actually, a secret. I used to be a LARPer.
HS: Oh really? That’s so cool!
DP: Really? Where did you LARP?
AMA: I loved it for the acting, not for the health points or…you know. And I love immersive theater. I am a big fan of immersive theater. So, this is exciting. I may fly out to London.
DP: You should.
HS: Provided there’s no, like, travel ban on the U.S.
AS: And, I LARP as a musician, so.
DP: I LARP as a musician.
AMA: You LARP as a musician?
AS: Get it? It’s a joke.
DP: I don’t get the joke.
AS: LARP as a musician. “Life is one big LARP,” says Shakespeare.
DP: Life is one big LARP. Yeah.
[01:24:32] Henry decides NOT to share when the next album is going to come out but Henry & Duc share the percentage of completion
DP: Yeah, there’s that. And then there’s, like you said, the album. Do you want to announce the date of the album, Henry, like you did last…? The last interview haunted me.
HS: I’ll say when the album’s going to be going out, and you’ll castigate me for my folly. And yeah, it’s true. There’s no specific date yet. I know it would be tempting fate to put one on it because the last time we did that, it ended up taking about two or three years longer than the original date that we’d set. But it’s very much underway and it’s sounding amazing. It’s a conceptually really interesting album. It expands on a lot of the themes that we’ve explored before, but in a lot more detail.
AMA: Could you at least tell us the percentage of completion?
HS: Percentage? Oh, I don’t know. 34%.
AMA: Okay. All right.
AMA: All right. All right.
DP: I reckon it can go all the way up to 42%, 43%.
DP: More than 40%.
DP: Exactly. That’s the magic number.
AS: How did you know?
[01:25:45] Achilleas, the human calculator, kind of
AMA: Well, I’m surprised you didn’t know, Achilleas, because you seem to have this, like, calculator. You’re like a human calculator. I saw you calculating numbers earlier, and I’m like, “How did he do that?”
AS: I’m really bad at math. I’m taking a course right now in the philosophy of arithmetic and incompleteness, where we’re trying to prove Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, and it just takes me, like, 16 hours to understand what’s on the page. I haven’t gotten the grades back, but I think I’m like probably the worst in the class. I feel really bad because I want to do math. So, it’s a sham. I’m a LARPer.
[01:26:18] Henry shares a story about Achilleas’ tendency towards exaggeration and hyperbole.
HS: He has a problem with math. He’s very prone to exaggeration and hyperbole. And so, I remember one time, we were going across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and Achilleas was like, “Yeah, this bridge is okay. But did you know the longest bridge in the world is in Greece?” And we’re like, “No, it’s not. No. There’s no way that the longest bridge in the world is in Greece. It must be in China or Japan or somewhere.” And he’s like, “No, I promise you. I promise you, it’s the longest bridge in the world.” And it wasn’t. It was, I think, like the 49th longest bridge in the world.
AS: Right. So, it is the longest semiconductor freestanding bridge in the world. I wasn’t right about that.
HS: Oh, it was a specific kind of bridge. But you said it was the world’s longest bridge, and you put some bizarre figure on it in miles and kilometers.
HS: He’s like, “It’s 73 miles long.” And it ended up being, like, 34. He was like, “Okay, but 34, you round up to… That’s 74.”
AMA: That’s a good impression.
DP: Yeah, it’s very funny. Achilleas is very liberal with his numbers. I’ve never met someone who’s as creative as Achilleas with math.
AS: For example, I did the number of the combinations wrong. I said, like, 5000. It’s not 5000. It’s, like, 1500. (Correction: Actually 6400 combinations.)
DP: On the press release, though, that’s like a typical Achilleas thing. On the press release, he was saying…
AS: Four thousand combinations.
DP: Yeah, we advertised 4000 combinations. And then Achilleas redid the calculation and realized it was a quarter of that number.
HS: A thousand is not bad, but it’s not 4000.
[01:28:07] Bolfest & top places that HMLTD is popular
AMA: Aren’t you guys doing the Bolfest?
AMA: In Moscow as well?
AS: We’re supposed to be doing this for three years now, but it keeps getting cancelled because of COVID. We were booked in 2020, then it was moved to 2021, and now it’s moved to 2022 again.
AMA: Oh. Okay.
DP: That isn’t moved? That isn’t being moved?
HS: It’s going to be moved back to 2022. But we’re really excited for that. We’ve been to Russia twice before, and it seems to be bizarrely where a lot of our fans are situated. It’s like our largest fan base outside of the UK is in Russia. And it’s just an amazing country, and the fans are all absolutely wonderful, so I’m really excited to go back there because it’s, I think, all of our favorite place to play.
AMA: So, top three places that you’re very popular? Russia. Where else?
HS: Apart from the UK, Russia, Colombia. We did a show in Bogota…
HS: …a couple of years ago, which we got a really big following from. It was this bizarre festival where we played to, like, 20,000 people in this public square in Bogota.
[01:29:19] HMLTD’s fight with Suicide Silence
HS: And the rest of the bands on the lineup were all like these famous American heavy metal bands like Suicide Silence, who we had a big fight with in the hotel lobby. Because we had just arrived, it was like 4:00 a.m., and we were trying to eat some food and just go to bed. And Suicide Silence turned up, and the singer just starts playing on the piano, except he’s absolutely awful. He was trying to do these Beatles covers. And then Duc gets up, and he’s like, “Can you please stop playing? It’s 4:00 a.m. We’ve been on an 18-hour flight.” And we had a mini kind of fight within ourselves and Suicide Silence. But we made up by the end of the trip.
AMA: That’s good. That’s good.
HS: But Colombia. And I don’t know what else. Romania. We’ve got quite a lot of fans in Romania.
AS: Poland, Romania.
DP: Paris? France?
HS: We’ve got lots of fans in Japan we see on Twitter. I think we got almost like number two in the vinyl charts in Japan.
AMA: Oh, wow. Okay.
HS: Which was nice, which was cool. So, I guess Japan. We want to go there at some point.
AMA: Oh, that would be… I love Japan. I’d love to go there, so that would be a good excuse. Anything else that we haven’t covered? Anything you want to say? Any other shows or projects? Anything else that you want to get out?
HS: There’s a few things that are under wraps, so we can’t disclose them on a public forum.
AMA: Got it. Got it.
[01:30:55] Henry’s special message to HMLTD’s fans
AMA: Or even like a message?
HS: We love you, we care about you, and you’re in our thoughts. That’s what we want to let all our fans know, because they haven’t seen us in months.
AMA: Aw. I love it.
[01:31:12] Achilleas’ thoughts on the ecological impact of NFTs, and Duc’s conclusion on who is the worst.
DP: Do you want to talk a bit more about the ecological impact of NFT, Achilleas?
AS: No, I don’t want to.
DP: I think, what you said…
AMA: Are you talking about the ecological impact?
DP: Because it’s a big thing at the moment, and, you know, I want to make sure that the people… I like what you said about it. I want to make sure that the people know that we are aware of the problems and why we think it’s, you know, not as bad as it’s made out to be.
AMA: Yeah. It is less than 1%. I mean, it’s not an excuse for it to happen, and people are working on it, but yeah, Acilleas, if you could…
AS: Yeah. I think it’s a question of scale, first of all. So, I mean, if you look at the numbers, what you’ll find is that, yes, the blockchains, especially the proof of work ones, like Ethereum, do consume a lot of energy. But the idea is that they would consume this energy anyway. It doesn’t matter what transaction [1:32:07]. They do the work, They do the computations. So, if you think about it in terms of the sort of marginal impact of each minting on top of the thing, that’s, again, for an expense and a fee, it comes down to about less than the ecological impact of selling one T-shirt to your fans, right? So, what we decided to do is we’re not doing a sort of open addition where we’re selling a thousand. We’re selling five to six to seven. If we sell them at cost price even for us, that would be less than selling a T-shirt in terms of the effect per dollar.
At the same time, I completely acknowledge the problem. People are working on it. Hopefully by next year or two years from now, these platforms will not consume the amount it consumes now. And more importantly, we’re raising initiatives about going carbon-neutral and a lot of donations on that end. So, I’m very hopeful about it. I think it’s important for people who are concerned about it, first, read up on it. Look at the stats. Look at the actual facts and evidence behind it. And then instead of sort of like saying, “Look, I read this thing about Bitcoin. Therefore, everything is bad,” like, “Okay, maybe there’s problems. How do we solve them?” rather than just branding the whole thing as burning down the Amazon, because it doesn’t. And even if it has some harm, it’s better to rectify them and keep the benefits that we get from this, which are so sizable and so important for artists, and I think, in the long run, for the environment, actually, because I think if this replaces things that we want it to replace in the iteration that we’d have in a couple of years, it would be much better for the environment and the current legacy system. For touring, for example, right? Or even for music production. So, you know, maybe help. Let’s try and fix it rather than sort of like cancelling before it’s even sort of understood, I’d say.
DP: I agree with that.
AS: And don’t eat beef. If you’re worried about the environment, cut down your beef consumption. That will be…
DP: Don’t make children, you know. That’s the worst.
AS: You can do that. I would not say that.
DP: What? It’s true. There’s nothing worse than a human being. I mean, in terms of…you know.
AS: Nothing worse than a human being. That’s the pull quote. That’s it. We got it, guys.
[01:34:32] Where can people find HMLTD?
AMA: All right. Where can people find you or contact you? And your merch. Where can they find your merch?
AS: Our very environmentally unfriendly merch is at hmltd.org.
HS: If you want to save the environment, buy an NFT instead of a hoodie because clothing production is, you know, not very good for the environment. Anyway, buy either. [smirks] Buy, buy, buy.
AS: Ideally, both.
AMA: Yeah, I saw that. Yeah.
HS: We do.
AMA: Also, Async.Art, right?
AS: Async.Art. Yeah.
AMA: All right. Is there anything else? Anything else you guys want to…?
HS: Thank you. Thank you for having us.
AS: Yeah. That was really enjoyable.
AMA: Thank you. Thank you. I really, really enjoyed it as well. It was an absolute pleasure to have you on the show.
HS: Let us know if you’re ever in London, and likewise, when we’re in Chicago.
AMA: Oh, yeah. That would be amazing. I would love that. I would love that. Thank you so much, you guys. Appreciate it so much.
AS: Thank you.
AMA: If you haven’t already, please help support this channel by subscribing, clicking on the notification bell, and smashing that Like button. Thank you, my Rare Digital Birds. Until next time. Fly high.
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