Recently I had the chance to talk to two amazing artists Eirik “Phlogiston” Suhrke and Rich "DisasterPEACE" Vreeland who on top of making music and art, have collaborated to bring us the Pause netlabel which is dedicated to bringing the world amazing and unique chiptunes, and more recently incredible game soundtracks as well through their PLUS moniker. For those who have yet to check out II, head over to their site right now! I myself have downloaded pretty much every album off their site and enjoyed every single one immensely.
So read on and find out what these two hard working folks had to say about their site.
Rich: Eirik and I felt like we were part of a niche of artists that didn't really have an outlet at the time to express ourselves, so we sought to address that problem by starting a label.
Eirik: Yeah - we had both been part of several different netlabels/ communities, and wanted more of a permanent home for the lot of us - so we made one.
R: I think our label seeks to associate itself with a particular type of sound, probably more so than some of the other prominent chip labels. 8bitpeoples for instance tends to have a more all-encompassing catalog with a much broader variety of artists and styles, and I think that's probably their strong suit. They're a much more active label with a larger reach and fanbase, so it's the perfect introduction to 8-bit music. We're definitely less hands-on, leaving things up to the artists a bit more.
E: I see Pause as a band / demoscene group or whatever you'd like to call it, as much as I see it as a label. I'm not sure about other labels, but we're just a small group of musicians/friends who decided to create one collective outlet for our creativity. I guess there's no point in pinpointing exactly what it is.
When you started your label, what were your initial goals and ideas for what you wanted out of your site?
R: We initially wanted Pause to be a team of musicians who exclusively released all of their music on Pause, essentially to use the site as a homepage on the web. It was going to be the place for this small group of artists to have all their music either available or linked to, blogs, and all sorts of information that people might care about. Ultimately we decided to go for a broader variety of releases and pass on the team idea, at least for the time being.
E: The idea was that we'd get more exposure if we made one website instead of as individuals. As Pause grows we get new ideas and set new goals. I guess now one of the main goals would be to find ways to generate some income, so we can treat our fans to more merchandise, gigs and what not. But for the time being, Pause is still just on the hobby level.
Have you met any of those goals? Also, is there anything that has come as a surprise in running your site, such as press, reception to certain albums, etc?
R: The reception has been overwhelmingly positive, which has been great. I suppose the biggest surprise has been the amount of work required to be serious about running a label. Our style has traditionally been pretty casual, despite being serious about the music we release. If we dedicated more time to Pause we probably would be in better shape than we are now!
E: Yeah, note that Pause is still just on the hobby level, so there's only so much time to devote to it. One thing I came up with back with the initial idea for Pause was Plus, and getting that one up there was certainly accomplishing a goal.
R: Actually one of our PLUS releases, the music from "Immortal Defense", is far and away the most downloaded album on the site. We count over 7,000. The Pause compilation "Heartcode" is second at almost 3,000. Among regular artist releases, Animal Style's Gameboy Madrigals and iqtu's Embarrassing Triangle seem to be the two most popular releases. Naturally over time our viewership has increased to somewhere between 100 to 300 unique visitors a day, so the more recent releases are getting more downloads than the earlier stuff.
E: I was very suprised with how much attention Heartcode got. We didn't promote it anymore than our other releases, but for some reason I saw it popping up all over the place. I guess it shows that if we put together a tight release, people will check it.
It seems this site came to fruition around the time of the demise of former chiptune netlabels Megatwerp and Betamod. Did those sites have any impact on the artists on II or the forming of the label, or was it just coincidental timing?
R: I think Betamod went under after we had already started, but Megatwerp definitely had something to do with us starting Pause. Eirik and I had both released material on Megatwerp, but I think we just had different ideas about what we wanted to do and release than what they were doing.
E: Like Rich said, we had both been through a few rounds with Megatwerp, and then there was ChipCache whiich died pre-birth. I remember having alot of ideas that I contributed to both those labels, so in the wake of them it seemed like a good idea to just make my own label instead. Seems Rich had the same idea. I honestly don't remember Betamod - but the name sounds familiar now that you mention it.
How did the Plus portion of II come about?
R: PLUS was actually Eirik's idea, and I totally agreed that'd be great to have a section dedicated to releasing Game Soundtracks.
E: Having been involved in the indie gaming scene for a number of years, and having enjoyed quite a few soundtracks from indie games, I just couldn't see why there wasn't a central site for that stuff. So when we made Pause I immediately throught that I wanted a section for that as well. Obviously I wanted to do it so there could be a home for my game soundtracks, as well.
How did you come up with and decide on the name "II"? Does it have any particular meaning to you or the site in general?
R: We wanted something iconic, laconic, easy to remember, but also musically relevant. Ultimately we've decided to go with Pause though, mainly because people don't seem to be smart enough to figure out that the two II's mean Pause. It's not really their fault though, people spread the domain out as being iimusic.net (which it is) and people as a result lose the intended meaning.
E: We also had some fun ideas for plus, like having it be Play, and write it >, so it would go next to the II like on a VCR. I think we also toyed with the idea of calling it Equal, written =. Tilted II, get it? But yeah, ultimately all of this stuff is too gimmicky, and people don't get it anyhow.
R: Our criteria is simple. Do whatever it is that you do, and do it well. And if we like it, we'll release it! Eirik and I have different litmus tests for quality and so on, so we don't always see eye to eye. But generally one of us will succumb to the other if they're absolutely in love with an album. If we both like it but aren't crazy about it though, we probably won't release it. We try to keep a high standard so that the things that we do release are really great. At least, in our biased opinions. And we ask that people send us finished or close to finished releases so that we know exactly what we're working with.
E: I always try to be as strict as possible when deciding upon what to release or not. There's so many netlabels out there, so in order to stand out I think you need to set the bar pretty high. But please do send us demos - we do get ones we really like from time to time! Our compilations are also a good way to get a foot inside. Just recently with the Sea of Ice comp we came into contact with ZZZV, which now has one EP out on Pause.
What are both of your duties in maintaining II music?
R: Traditionally I've been in charge of most of the web maintenance type stuff. I built the website, and usually post the album releases and finalize the album artwork. At some point though Eirik learned how to do that stuff too so now we both post to the blog and add releases. I've also generally prepared the releases, and come up with the track orders for the compilations. Beyond that we do pretty much everything 50/50. PLUS is Eirik's baby though, so he handles that more than I.
E: Like Rich said, he definitely used to be the boss. I was coming up with alot of ideas, and maintaining contact with artists, but Rich was doing all of that hard work. This was because he built the website, which I wouldn't know how to do anyhow, and once the site went online
I was without internet for a few months, so we got off a little unbalanced. At some point Rich decided to focus on school and his own music for a while, so I ran Pause solo for a couple of months. I guess it was then I realized how much work he was putting into it, and I think we've been equals ever since he decided to come back and do it with me again.
What do you tend to look for in artists who release albums or hope to release albums on your label?
R: We try to look for people who have their own unique voice, who would contribute something new to the catalog, at the same time, adhering to a certain level of quality.
E: Honestly, it just boils to "do I like this or not?". Sometimes we get demos that I can tell are really well made, but are not in a style that get's me excited, so we might not put it out - unless Rich digs it.
R: We always have something coming up! I'll be releasing my next album "Rise of the Obsidian Interstellar" by the end of the year. We also have Nonfinite's next album coming out soon, and Eirik also has something in the works which maybe he can talk about.
E: Yeah there's some Phlogiston coming up, too. I haven't been to active when it comes to releases, because I've been trying to focus on my soundtrack work, but there should be something soon.
What advice do you have for anyone interested in starting their own netlabel or looking to get their music on one?
R: I would definitely say that make sure your label is addressing needs, whoever's or whatever needs those may be. Secondly, have fun! As far as getting music on a netlabel, promote yourself as best you can, get on myspace, twitter, all those good things. And it never hurts to send demos to netlabels of course, and/or make friends with people who run labels.
E: Like all big stars say; Just believe in yourself and keep working and you'll get there. No, what do I know.
Anything else you would like to add?
R: Keep checking in for new releases! We have a few good ones coming up and are currently working on improving the site with new/revised features.
E: A big thanks to everyone who's supported us with Pause and before that, so far!
Once again I would like to thank Eirik and Rich for their time. I once again urge everyone to check out the site at iimusic.net! As I have been doing lately as well I would like to end the interview with a music video. This is not exactly related to II but includes music by Rich Vreeland. The video is a trailer for an upcoming game called High Strangeness, and I think the interesting artwork alongside the DisasterPEACE tune seems to fit the idea of II. so enjoy the video!