A discussion with Trey Frye

 

Korine is a Philadelphia based duo by members Morgy Ramone and Trey Frye. Their music resembles a contemporary electronic take on the new/dark wave of later 20th century.
Emotionally driven lyrics about human relations placed upon thick carpets of synthesized pop harmonics. The two released their debut EP “Corsage” in the fall of 2017, followed by their first full length “New Arrangements” released in 2018 by Born Losers Records.
For Data Airlines veterans, Trey Frye will ring a bell since its the real name of the chiptune luminary Trey Frey who released his Tres Frais EP on the label back in 2015. Trey Frey is renowned for pushing the envelope of what was thought possible to do with LSDj and gameboys and contributed to some of the big leaps forward that the gameboy scene has taken over the last decade. If you draw a line of what gameboy music sounded like back in the 00s and then another line with how it sounds today, Trey Freys music is the bridge that unites the two.
We sat down with Trey to discuss the new Korine album and how it all begun.

 

5 years have been spilled under the bridges since your last Trey Frey EP outing, how have your vision of chiptune changed since Tres Frais?

After 2015 I found myself feeling unsatisfied with the musical direction I was heading in. I was pursuing the gameboy thing for about 6 years at that point and after the release of “Tres Frais” I felt as if I had hit a wall, and I felt hungry for more. Around the start of 2016 I started teaching myself full on music production and was experimenting with a variety of styles, during that time I met my future Korine bandmate Morgy Ramone and was helping them record their first EP under that moniker.
By 2017 we ended up deciding to scrap their EP and reformat Korine as a duo. Regarding chiptune and my experience in the community, I don’t think my songwriting style / musical approach would be the same without learning to write music on trackers. There’s something about trackers that force you to think about music in a very specific and unique way. I think it’s great that people are still actively making chip music and It’s nice to have people still reach out to me years later requesting I make more music. I’m just happy to have made an impact on anyone at all with Trey Frey.

Many allude to the limitation of chiptune and trackers as a creative blessing, but for you it sounds more like it was a constraint for your work?

Well from the beginning I always had a maximalist approach to a minimalist setup, which is why I ended up gravitating to using 2 gameboys per song by the end. For me it turned into “How can I make the most non gameboy sounding thing with a gameboy” and although I think I achieved that to an extent it became a futile effort as I started expecting more from the gameboy’s sound chip than is technologically possible. Now that I mainly create music with Ableton my struggle is having too many choices (haha). I think it’s all about finding a comfortable medium where you can stretch your creative limits, at a time the gameboy was perfect for me, but people evolve and their needs and interests change. Using minimal trackers as my entry way to composing music definitely shaped my musical personality in a permanent way, I approach writing melodies, chords, etc. from a tracking perspective even many years after using LSDJ to write a song.
And despite the music of Korine being less energetic than my work as Trey Frey I thoroughly enjoy performing as Korine much more. I enjoy being able to share the stage with someone and also playing live instruments on stage again has been really rewarding. Using just gameboys on stage has a certain “shock” factor for people not familiar to the genre / set up, which works favorably in a lot of situations, and I have to give credit toward my time as Trey Frey for teaching me how basic audio hardware works (DJ mixing, etc.).

 

“It looks cool to people who have no idea what you’re doing but using a gameboy sound chip to make music has it’s obvious drawbacks, just like performing solo does.”

Is there another side to that gameboy shock factor coin? 

The converse side to the gameboy ‘shock factor’ is that it’s a very limiting set up and way to create music. It looks cool to people who have no idea what you’re doing but using a gameboy sound chip to make music has it’s obvious drawbacks, just like performing solo does. I was lucky enough to usually have travelling companions when touring as Trey Frey whether friends or other musicians, but the times I travelled alone did get lonely. I flew all the way to Europe and back by myself at 22 years old which was a powerful experience for me as my first time ever leaving the US. I definitely prefer having a bandmate to travel with as it helps to have a sense that someone is “in it” with you, and also makes the long car rides and flights more enjoyable.

Do you think that this gimmicky aspect is holding chip music back?

I don’t necessarily think it’s holding anyone back, in fact a lot of chip musicians use the gimmick to their advantage, it’s just not how I wanted to present my music.

 

With Korine, do you feel that the focus is back on the music and not the gadget? 

It’s unfortunate that it was all too often that the shock factor of holding a gameboy on stage was the bigger takeaway than my actual music. Part of the reason I started gravitating away from my old project is because of the gimmicky aspect of chip music. Journalists who write about Korine pretty much never talk about how we make our songs or what gear we use etc. It’s just about whether the song is good or not, and I prefer it that way.

As far as performing electronic music live, musicians will always face criticism from certain people about not “doing enough” on stage. At the end of the performance all that really matters to me is that the person listening got something from it emotionally. I don’t really care if gear heads think what I’m doing isn’t interesting or challenging enough. With Korine we use all hardware on stage as well: a sampler, mixer, effects pedals, and a synthesizer, and I feel a lot “busier” with this set up too as I’m the one operating all of that stuff while performing. We’re even discussing having me play live bass guitar when we’re able to tour again as a lot of our newer songs have that featured in the recordings.
I probably adopted this mentality from being involved in chip music but I’ve never liked the appearance of “guy with a macbook” on stage. It just takes away from the mystique of a performance for me. I also get nervous having to rely on a computer live, and prefer hardware whenever possible even if it’s a simple set up like an audio sampler and a few synths. That being said I’m definitely not a gear snob, I just prefer whatever is easiest and makes the most sense for the situation.

How did you adapt your creative process when moving from a solo project to a band?

I used to play in bands when I was younger but when I started making electronic music around 2009 I had pretty much vowed to never be in another “band” again because I generally prefer to be self reliant. I definitely feel lucky to have met Morgy because our creative and personal energies mesh well together. Like anything it was a learning curve teaching myself how to record and mix vocals, as Korine we’ve probably tossed over 50 potential songs throughout the trial and error process. When starting songs we generally hang out together and I’ll try to make up a part on a synth and Morgy will sing over it until something clicks, add drums etc. Then the rest is all methodical (recording, mixing, etc.) The production aspect of the music was all trial an error. Most of my engineering knowledge has been self taught.

 

“Honestly before I started Korine with Morgy I still had absolutely no interest in being in a band again or collaborative music project. “

For the most recent Korine record coming in September we recorded all the vocals in a closet with a standard cheap shure sm58. Most of the synths on the record are hardware, namely a Juno 60, DX7, Emu EMAX II, and Ensoniq ESQ-1. I produce everything else “in the box” in Ableton as It’s relatively easy to replicate hardware FX digitally but not so much the sound of hardware synthesizers. Korine has been a constant learning process for both myself and Morgy. When we started I was worse at producing, worse at mixing, and they were worse at songwriting.
As time passed we naturally developed better skills and settled into working together more efficiently. I (like many artists) draw a lot of my musical inspiration from my personal experiences. I think being on several tours together by this point definitely shaped the sound of ‘The Night We Raise’ as we’ve had a lot of (both good and bad) shared experiences. I have literally zero involvement with the lyrical content of the songs, so you would have to ask Morgy about that, but I’m sure they would say something along the lines of wanting to convey relatable emotions to our listeners while expressing their own feelings / experiences.

Our vibe from the start has always been what we call “sad on the dancefloor”. As for band references, there are the obvious 80s staples like The Cure etc. but we both have unique backgrounds to making music that I think there’s an interesting overlap that makes the Korine sound. Morgy has a lot of inspiration from past punk projects they were involved in as well as drawing influence from 90s/00s Emo stuff. Prior to doing this band I was still heavily into electronic music, having recently decided to move on from Trey Frey, so I think the interesting crossover happens between what I like about electronic music / past chip music stuff and Morgy’s take on approaching vocals.

 

Since we started getting attention Korine has kind of been nestled neatly between the post-punk / goth scene, the synthwave scene, and I guess just the regular pop/rock scene. All of those genres of music have their own noticeable tropes that we sometimes nod to but we prefer to not align too heavily with anyone’s expectations. It’s part of the music consumption process to want to categorize every band you know, but we do our best to exist in and appeal to multiple genres.

Do you remember why you were drawn to electronic music and chiptune? Do you think growing up in a small town have made an impact on your musical direction and taste? Is part of being sad on the dancefloor a representation of a semi rural upbringing where your interests is not in sync with your peers?

For reasons unknown to me I just immediately fell in love with the sound of simple analog synthesizers. Something about it just drew me in, and the accessibility of being able to make a song without the need for “band members” really enticed me. For the first time in my life I didn’t have to rely on my friends to make music with me, I could do it all on my own when I wanted to and how I wanted to. Growing up in semi rural West Virginia didn’t leave me many options to explore creatively. When I was in middle school I started skateboarding, getting into punk music etc. and that started me on the “music path”. There were only so many kids that were also into the things I was which is why I was in a few bands I didn’t necessarily like. Having access to the internet definitely changed all of that for me so by the time I was in high school I had access to a whole world separate from my immediate surroundings, 8bitcollective being a big part of that during my time as Trey Frey.

A friends older brother showed me this band from Sweden called Slagsmalsklubben that was making music with only analog synths and I was hooked. Enough time on the internet looking up similar bands led to me discovering chip music (specifically a video from 2007 of Japanese chip musician Maru playing on a street). I still remember the feeling of seeing that and thinking “I can do that.” I eventually got a copy of LSDJ after spending a year making music in Renoise and the rest is history I suppose.

Like many people involved in art of any form I grew up dealing with (and still currently deal with) depression, anxiety, etc. and use(d) music as an outlet for that. Being a “black sheep” both with many of my peers and my family definitely contributed to this as well. I wouldn’t say the way we identify Korine is directly tied to my upbringing but more so just us wanting to relate to listeners who struggle in a similar way that Morgy and I have.
Honestly before I started Korine with Morgy I still had absolutely no interest in being in a band again or collaborative music project. Originally Korine started because I was helping Morgy record / mix some of their own demos and over time that morphed into us having a band together. I consider myself very lucky to have just stumbled into working with someone I really respect as an artist, and never thought I would be in a band again.

 

“As time has gone on I’ve accepted that it’s part of who I am even if the music I made under that name doesn’t resonate with me the way it did when I was 21.”

 

 

Do you believe that artists who comes from small towns have a different approach to creativity than artists who grew up in metropolis? If so, are the tendency to engage with niches and subcultures instead of a more mainstream approach to artistery stronger or weaker for the former?

I absolutely think that there is a difference but that access to the internet can blur the line between quite a bit. From my personal experience, no one was making electronic music in any form anywhere near me, so when I started doing the gameboy thing it was the weirdest thing anyone in my local scene had ever seen. Some people liked it and some people hated it. There wasn’t a scene for it within hundreds of miles of where I was from so I had to make my own, which is quite a contrast to growing up somewhere like New York where there’s access to many like miereople making similar art etc.

Would you be able to cohabit two projects like Korine and Trey Frey at the same time or is it more binary?

For a time I was doing both Trey Frey and Korine at the same time, slowly Korine took more of my focus as it started ramping up in popularity, we started touring more, etc. It was also newer and more exciting for me at a time where I was extremely bored and disenchanted with making gameboy music. I currently do other music outside of Korine such as freelance composing, mixing / mastering for a few clients etc. I prefer to be doing multiple things at once to keep music interesting and so I don’t get burnt out on any one particular thing.

How do you come to terms with an old project when you are in a new one?

For a while during the transition into doing Korine more “full time” I was pretty embarrassed by my work as Trey Frey. Considering the chip music scene is very niche and not taken seriously by people who haven’t been involved with it I was reluctant to let anyone know about my past music. As time has gone on I’ve accepted that it’s part of who I am even if the music I made under that name doesn’t resonate with me the way it did when I was 21. Making music with LSDJ shaped how I approach songwriting, so in a way everything I make from now into the future has been influenced heavily by chip music.

The Night We Raise drops on September 4, 2020 on Born Losers Records & Data Airlines on digital, audio cassette and vinyl.