McMillan vibe shifts to folktronic

CELEBRATE KNOXVILLE – Primo Trinkets, Vol. 1, the latest album from Knoxville musician and songwriter Rory McMillan, sees official release on iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, and Spotify, on Friday, August 12, 2016. Celebrate Knoxville caught up with McMillan this week for a chat about this latest project and to ask (since he mentioned it on Facebook) how attending his 20th high school reunion was for him this year.

Primo Trinkets, Vol. 1 Official Album Cover

CK: You’ve produced a lot of music the last few years. How has your work evolved?

RM: Sutherland Ave. Hymns (2014) marked a shift for me where I started to deviate some from using acoustic guitar and doing the whole “folktronic” genre into doing some songs that were all made on keyboards and synthesizers. Remember This (2015) turned into a two volume project in which I embraced the keys and did away with strings entirely. It also marked the start of my collaborations with Nick Miller on drums- we eventually took all of those collaborations from those albums, tagged on a couple new ones, and officially released them together as a project called Synth and Sensibility (you can get the self-titled album for free on bandcamp or hear it on Spotify or Pandora). By that point, I felt as if I had been pushing the boundaries of what I was capable of achieving with the digital piano I had been using since 2004. That particular instrument was honestly pretty outdated in it’s technology, and I felt I owed it to the music to get a more modern keyboard with more realistic tones and a larger pool of sounds to choose from. With the new keyboard I got this year (Yamaha MX-49), I am able to get much better tones that were impossible for me before.

CK: So you recorded Primo Trinkets in your home studio?

RM: This album was recorded at my home in South Knoxville between March and June of 2016. I spent roughly 100 hours writing, recording, and mixing it myself. It was then mastered by a guy from Burlington, Vermont named Greg Davis, who runs a company called Autumn Mastering. Greg is a world-renowned experimental musician, and he seemed like the perfect person to put to work on this task.

CK: Love the album artwork also. Joyful.

RM: The album’s beautiful artwork was done by my friend Kate Stepp. She is a high school librarian in North Carolina, but is also an amazing artist. We had art class together in the mid-90’s at Bearden High School.

CK: The first cut on this album, and my favorite, “Flight of the Ladybird,” has a dark and surprising underpinning. Like you’re walking in the park on a sunny day, but someone is watching you from behind a tree.

RM: Ha ha ha! It does have a dark side. I was using a new keyboard, Yamaha MX-49. I was also using my trusty microKORG synthesizer a little on every track, too. I also employed some VST sounds from a computer program called Steinberg HALion Symphonic Orchestra (but using the Yamaha to play the notes)- this is where a lot of the really realistic violin, cello, and upright bass sounds came from, as well as a couple other random symphony instruments. And the background noise on track 7 was from using a computer program called Padshop by Steinberg, which is a way of manipulating what is known as “granular synthesis”. I recorded basically every track of music in stereo, though over half of them are panned to the left or right in varying degrees. In the past, I used a lot more mono tracks, but using stereo on everything seems to give a more spacious, living, breathing vibe on this kind of music. The recording software I used was called Steinberg Cubase Elements 6.

CK: I saw on Facebook that you recently went to your high school reunion. Did you tell them about your music or just mingle and keep a low profile?

RM: I did recently go to my 20-year high school reunion, Bearden’s Class of ’96. Music was definitely discussed with some friends. Most of my classmates who I have stayed in touch with over the years already know how important it is to me, and many of them have been supportive.

CK: What’s next?

RM: I have found a good rhythm to incorporating the songwriting process into my weekly life and balancing it with the other aspects of my life- recovery, serving at (a local) restaurant, playing bass guitar in a rock band, and teaching music lessons to a couple of students. I just recently acquired two analog synths- a Dave Smith Mopho x4 (which is in a tie with my Martin guitar as the nicest instrument I’ve ever had) and an Arturia Microbrute. Future music will definitely see them play heavily into the mix.

Celebrate Knoxville readers can get Primo Trinkets, Vol. 1 for free here:

–Celebrate Knoxville, August 3, 2016.