‘Ambient music’ casts the net very wide, but at its core, maybe, is a sense of atmosphere.
Being such a hazy-defined, saturated genre, standing out from other producers requires innovation, emotion and a novel approach to production.
These criteria were exceeded when we listened to CoastalDives’ latest record, Next Light.
The Columbus-based producer and composer’s release is inspired by the tragic emergency brain surgery of his father.
Although rife with melancholy and nostalgia, Next Light is absolutely an album about hope.
The wealth of soundscapes on display will stop you in your tracks, as CoastalDives takes the listener on a journey through a difficult time in his past with whirling poignancy.
We sat down with CoastalDives to dig a little deeper into the new release.
Tell us the CoastalDives story. Who are you? What’s the journey been like?
I’ve played music all of my life and decided to major in music composition in college, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Music composition is endless, challenging, inspiring, and defeating. The idea of concept always brings me back to writing.
CoastalDives was just a concept I came up with while on tour with my band in 2016. It was born out of the desire to compose in any style I wanted. To push boundaries, to do something unique and challenging, not only for myself but maybe for the listener too. I’m inspired by concepts and musical ideas I’ve never heard before that force me out of my comfort zone.
And then I had a short film score opportunity for a film called “All Small Bodies”, and upon completion decided to release it as the first CoastalDives album in 2018. So that’s what got it started, and I’ve kept it going.
No matter what bands I play in, no matter what other projects I have going on, I can release whatever I want as CoastalDives. It’s a freedom and a luxury for me to not be tied to any specific genre of sound or style.
Your record was inspired by your father’s emergency brain surgery and slow recovery through his 75th birthday. How did you go about translating such an intense emotional experience into music? Did it feel cathartic?
I was composing small ideas while my father was going through the surgery and recovery. Of course everything going on with him was constantly on my mind, so I couldn’t help but let my thoughts and his struggle be the focal point for the music.
A lot of the album represents uncertainty, anxiety, and while feeling that still surrendering to whatever happens. But there’s a lot of hope in the tone and color of the music. It was very special for me to compose music that was in homage to what my father was enduring and overcoming. So in that way it was cathartic.
And even though the times were challenging, I can listen to this music now and know that it was dark, but there was always hope, always a future.
The resultant sound across the album is so intricate, rich and measured — can you give us an insight into the production process?
This album was essentially a collection of short melodic ideas combed over and over again until each track felt finished. One layer leads to the next, to the next, and so on. It’s all synthesizer, so finding balance with the tones I chose was a task.
I limited myself to just a couple of synthesizers (almost all Sequential Prophet 6 and a tiny bit from my Elektron Analog Four) so I could focus mostly on the musical concepts. I wanted the album to sound and feel orchestral, so that’s where the intricate and layered aspects come in, but maybe with instruments you’ve never heard before.
It’s not fancy…it’s just throwing ideas at the wall and discovering what sticks. Patience is a factor because not everything works.
I can only speak for myself when saying I have to feel a sense of closure before I can call a piece finished, and that takes patience. Is it good? Is it conveying what I want it to? The listener’s answers to these questions are likely different from mine, but I have to ask myself these questions and answer honestly before I can move on.
The field recordings from the cathedral across the release add a poignant layer of reality to it. Why did you add these?
This music was composed during the covid lockdowns. I was desperately missing the feeling of being in a large venue or hall and experiencing music with people all around me. So it made sense to add the field recordings in an attempt to give it a larger space and a live feel.
I wanted the listener to feel like they were sitting down to experience an electronic show in movements, like a concert or a symphony. The noises are there to let you know that other people are listening with you, and I found that to be comforting.
You’ve previously written film scores. Does the working process feel different when you’re writing about something that actually happened?
The writing process for reality is definitely more personal. I invest a lot of myself into anything I write, but there’s no distraction for me if it isn’t for film. I love both processes though.
Composing music for film is very rewarding because you’re there to serve someone else’s vision through your own unique, creative language.
And that can take some of the creative stress off in a way. Then again, your job is to elevate the film. That’s pressure of a different kind.
Composing for solo release is whatever you want it to be, which is a beautiful freedom. But it has to stand on its own.
Finally, you’re coming on a road trip with us. You can only bring 3 albums. What are they? Why?
Lowly – “Hifalutin” – This album is ripe with beautiful melodies and unique songwriting. It’s a little melancholic but very comforting to me.
Abul Mogard – “Above All Dreams” – My favorite ambient album at the moment. This is my escape when I don’t want to think about form or melody.
M83 – “Junk” – Everything else I need is on this record. It’s poppy, clever, upbeat, and still has some of the prettiest ballads I’ve ever heard.
You can buy CoastalDives’ Next Light here: