Interview with Shelby Cinca

Shelby Cinca is a music maker with many different voices. Often, when a person is known for a distinct sound, remnants of that sound can be found in other projects that follow. This is not the case with Cinca. After the spazz core group he founded in the 90’s, Frodus, disbanded in 1999, Cinca went on to form The Cassettes, Travelers of Tyme and Triobelisk. Since moving from Washington DC to Sweden, he has started the digital label Swedish Columbia, which includes artists from DC, Sweden and elsewhere. Cinca does graphic design and has also served as an engineer on many projects, a job which is taking up more and more of his time. He has also released a new EP with his Travelers of Tyme which hasn’t released music in quite some time.

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Shelby Cinca is a music maker with many voices. Often, when a person is known for a distinct sound, remnants of that sound can be found in other projects that follow. This is not the case with Cinca. After the spazz core group he founded in the 90’s, Frodus, disbanded in 1999, Cinca went on to form The Cassettes, Travelers of Tyme and Triobelisk. Since moving from Washington DC to Sweden, he has started the digital label Swedish Columbia, which includes artists from DC, Sweden and elsewhere. Cinca does graphic design and has also served as an engineer on many projects, a job which is taking up more and more of his time. He has also released a new EP with his Travelers of Tyme which hasn’t released music in quite some time.

Through these different channels, Shelby has created a massive body of work with a precision that many artists do not have in one genre, let alone the groundbreaking work Cinca often creates. Between each project, whether it’s his retro-future DJ jams or his punk rock inspired yelps over fuzzed out guitars, Cinca is a musician and artist aware of every detail. His full on immersion into new ways of musical distribution are at the forefront of what is to come, home-grown labels and brands that benefit the artists who create them, not the media giants who seek only to profit from them’s. While he is quite aware of what a brand can do, his years as a graphic designer informing those capabilities, Cinca is not interested in a faceless relationship. It is the share and share alike nature of Swedish Columbia and all his ventures that truly puts him at the front of the pack.

KYS: How did your label Swedish Columbia come to be?

SC: The label started originally as a flagship to release some t-shirts that my friend Håkan from Division Of Laura Lee and I were working on. The brand eventually morphed to release electronic records by friends from 90s punk bands that wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day. Word spread amongst my peers after I began making my own electronic tunes out of necessity to create some sort of music while on tour. I found out as soon as I started sharing my creations with friends that I wasn’t alone with this and many of my peers made it known that they also want to release something and then it naturally evolved to friends of friends, etc…

KYS: What made you decide to do an all digital label via Bancamp?

SC: Bandcamp was a no brainer decision because everything about it is user-friendly. For DJ types who want super high-quality they can get FLAC and the mp3s are at 320k which is still higher than iTunes and most everyone else. I found Bandcamp soon after their launch and everything about it made sense to me as it solved many problems simultaneously– getting the records out there for “Choose Your Own Price”, an embeddable widget for my website, full-song streaming, downloadable extras, and very detailed statistics.

I think overall the great thing about digital distribution is that you aren’t locking in a release by pressing X amount of physical items that sit on a shelf. You can release some pretty obscure niche music without really worrying about breaking even. Not to mean that I wouldn’t ever press something– but at the moment I like keeping it simple and focusing on getting lots of music out there.

KYS: What type of response have you gotten utilizing Bandcamp and the pay what you want model?

SC: Bandcamp has been awesome– people usually pay more than the minimum amount I ask for. I think if you don’t treat potential customers as criminals and break down the barrier so we are all equal creative people in the same boat  then people usually err on being generous. It feels good to know you are supporting a fellow artist and I think Bandcamp makes it even better since no big multi-national corporation is getting money from the release. It’s totally indie and is the very spirit of punk and DIY. I actually think most blogs and music-press need to start focusing on reviewing Bandcamp releases since that’s where the pulse of underground DIY music is.
KYS: How did you get hooked up with Japanese artist Itaru?

SC: Itaru was the drummer from Atomic Fireball whom Frodus did a split 7″ with in 1999. We kept in contact over the years after touring back in 1999 and he would send me some of the electronic music he was working on occasion. He didn’t have a solid plan with his own music as far as releasing it and I stepped in and offered to help. He’s definitely one of my favorite artists I work with since I feel he has a really unique and challenging approach to what he does.

KYS: One of your post-Frodus projects has been Triobelisk, which feels like video game music and post-culture dance music. I know you started making that music on tour with Frodus and the Cassetes, but you’ve continued to grow with it. What does working in that capacity offer you that some of the more traditional bands you’ve been in can’t?

SC: Triobelisk offers me a way to be in total control of all the decisions and trajectory of it. I can get as nerdy sci-fi gamey with it as I choose which is lots of fun for me. It has opened my mind in approaching instrumental music and  making video-game inspired tracks that could work being DJ’ed or just listened to. I’ve also heavily enjoyed interfacing with different music programs– in particular Ableton Live. It’s really one of the only programs where you can fluidly jam with your own ideas quickly which is very rewarding and it pushes composition + creative sound exploration in more musical ways than in sound-engineer ways as other programs tend to do. Being that within the music and music-software alters how one thinks about sound/composing in ways that a band doesn’t. It is very structured due to it being on a computer so it makes you start thinking a little like that even when you are playing with humans.

I still have a very active imagination and connection to my child-mind and Triobelisk is very much an early childhood idea stemming from really liking the cantina band in Star Wars and the Meco “Star Wars & Other Galactic Funk” LP. I would daydream about being an alien musician on some weird off-world colony. It truly is a childhood dream come to fruition however there aren’t aliens present that we know of but maybe that’s next step after these body scanners are at airports– we will be in Total Recall when alien anatomies are revealed by the scanners such as beings with extra faces on their stomachs!

KYS: The other thing I’ve been really drawn to with Swedish Columbia, aside from the music and the democratic distribution method is the art work for the releases. Each artist has a distinct visual quality, but all are really intense. Can you talk about some of the graphic artists you work with?

SC: Since all you are getting is a square for the artwork I really try and make the covers count. I have done many of the covers but for a while at the beginning of the label I was working with this Finnish artist Sakke Soini to do all the artwork. He is a photoshop wizard and established the aesthetic of Swedish Columbia with some of the first key releases such as: Jonathan Kreinik and his dystopian mini-soundtrack “Return to Precinct 13”, Triobelisk “1” and Tanimura Midnight “s/t”. I have also used some illustrators such as a comic artist Chris Faccone for the Triobelisk character in “Brain Traveller” and Kurt Lightner (http://flavors.me/kurtlightner) for the new Itaru EP.

KYS: Travelers of Tyme, your project with former Frodus Alumni Jim Cooper recently released a new EP. How did that come about? Had you and Jim been wanting to do this for a while?

SC: Yeah! Jim and I wanted to do this ever since we recorded the first Travelers of Tyme in 1995. Jim moved to Chicago to go to college soon after we recorded the first Frodus album “Molotov Cocktail Party” and we only saw each-other during subsequent summer/winter-breaks so it became hard for us to actually pull off a lot sessions but we did all we could to fit in a few back then. We actually did one remote track for a compilation CD “An Evening in Nivram: A Tribute to The Shadows” in 1996 where we recorded drums and guitars on Jonathan Kreinik’s open-reel 8 track in Arlington, VA and mailed him the tape to Chicago to record the rest. I guess that was a shape of things to come as technology caught up over the past 14 years during our inactivity so now its easy to work remotely.

Travelers of Tyme really returned when I was in Romania this year after my Dad passed away and staying at our family home I kind of just went into high-focus music world in order to deal with it.I began with recording on some songs that Nick Kraly (projectionist for The Cassettes) sent me. Nick then visited me in Romania and we recorded a bunch more tracks and Jim added orchestration/extra-instrumentation on some of them remotely since I knew he was the man for the job. After one particular track with lots of odd instrumentation he said it reminded him of Travelers of Tyme and that we should pick it up again. Well after I finished up most of my parts on the “secret post-Cassettes” project I recorded 20 Travelers of Tyme songs which Jim and I have been fleshing out back and forth ever since. The EP is just a taste for “early adapters”, there is much more to come!

KYS: Also recently you and Jason Hammacher released some new Frodus music with Liam Wilson from Dillenger Escape Plan on bass. You worked with Baltimore producer Joe Mitra, who has been doing a lot of great work with a lot of local bands. How did that session go for you guys?

SC: The session was awesome! Joe was the perfect fit for it as he was an old school fan and knew 100% where we were coming from. We all inspired each-other in a positive way to achieve the best we could do. It really couldn’t have gone better. And in true Frodus fashion we even had some mad-cap happenings like Jason’s car-battery dying and having to sleep in the studio one night and then the next day having to push the car out of the garage while interacting with odd street denizens and having a rap-battle!

KYS: I’ve read you guys are possibly working on more music under the moniker Frodus Sound Laboratories. With you in Sweden and Jason in DC, is this mostly a digital collaboration? Are you guys passing tracks back and forth by email?

SC: Nah- Jason hasn’t had much time to set up a home recording setup and I think we work best by jamming in the same room taking cues from each-others’ musical signals. So we need to block off  time to create. We haven’t done anything in 2010 but I hope to start some sonic experiments in 2011.

KYS: I also read that you and Jason are working with a bunch of different guys from Refused and Darkest Hour. Any chance of collaborating with Nathan Burke? Part of why I ask is it seems both yours and his post-Frodus bands have had similarities in aesthetic. As a fan I’d be really interested to see what the three of you would come up with.

SC: We’re open to it if he has time so we’ll have to see if things align with everyone’s schedules/lives.

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